To encourage advance health care planning, April 16 is National...

To encourage advance health care planning, April 16 is National Health Care Decisions Day. Most adults put off planning and may be confused by conflicting information and myths about advance health care planning. Credit: iStock

Weaknesses in New York's $17.9 billion system for providing care to people with a wide range of disabilities and a lack of consistent standards for preventing abuse and neglect is putting thousands of people at risk, according to a draft report on a review of the problems.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the review found a lack of consistent policies, record-keeping and prevention efforts at the six agencies responsible for the care of almost 300,000 people with disabilities or mental illness.

The 105-page report is titled "The Measure of a Society: Protection of Vulnerable Persons in Residential Facilities Against Abuse and Neglect."

Among its findings are differing policies on when law enforcement is called in after abuse claims and whether internal investigators are trained or not. The review found varied definitions of abuse and neglect at the agencies.

The report said residential schools run by state Department of Education didn't track abuse claims and had weak oversight of its programs for the disabled.

A spokesman told the newspaper the report points to changes the education department believes are needed to protect people under the care of the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration said it plans to announce changes to address the problems documented in the report. Two agency leaders have been ousted in the past year and the administration is moving to fire 130 workers accused in cases of abuse or neglect.

Advocates have been frustrated by what they say is the slow pace of reform and the Cuomo administration's refusal since December to publicly release the report.

Michael Carey, whose 13-year-old autistic son Jonathan was killed by a state-employed caretaker, said the administration has dragged its feet despite years of documented problems in the system.

"Countless innocent and extremely vulnerable children and adults with disabilities living in both state run and state regulated private residential facilities have tragically suffered horrible physical and sexual abuse needlessly at the hands of those that were supposed to care for them, and many have died, while many people in authority with full knowledge have looked the other way," he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The review also found the state Department of Health didn't have reliable records about claims at homes for the mentally ill it operates. And despite problems documented a decade ago by newspaper, the department has few standards for investigating its homes.

The other four state agencies in the system are the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Mental Health and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services.

Among the proposed measures to attack the problem are a 24-hour hotline for reporting abuse of adults in the system, like the existing hotline for child abuse complaints, and creating a central authority for investigations at any of the six agencies. A proposed law would prevent the agencies or the nonprofits they contract with from hiring anyone with violent felony or sex crime convictions. Steps would also be taken to create new categories of offenses and tougher penalties for abuse and neglect.

The report also calls for including a representative of an abused person during arbitration procedures against employees.

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