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Agency to protect disabled logs 5,000 abuse calls

ALBANY -- A new state agency established to protect an estimated 1 million New Yorkers with disabilities has logged more than 5,000 calls to its abuse hotline in the first three weeks.

The Justice Center for People with Special Needs, which opened June 30, is responsible for law enforcement and advocacy for individuals with developmental or mental health disabilities in state-funded or state-authorized care.

It has also established a confidential do-not-hire registry but hasn't yet listed anyone. State agencies and nonprofits will have to check the registry before making new hires.

Executive director Jeffrey Wise said it's too soon to tell how many of the calls represent actual cases. The center sometimes gets several calls on the same incidents.

Wise said the exclusion list for staff found responsible for serious abuse or neglect, and who are prohibited from being hired by the state agencies and their nonprofit contractors, is "a brand new list."

Some advocates have questioned the blank slate, noting one state agency responsible for care and services for 126,000 disabled New Yorkers, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, had reported more than 60,000 abuse allegations and 23,000 serious reportable incidents from 2008 to 2012.

Old disciplinary cases are still being handled within the caregiver agencies.

"You want people to have access to the information, to follow up and to follow through," said Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach), a longtime advocate.

Last year, Weisenberg sued a state-supported nonprofit alleging that his disabled 54-year-old son Ricky was hit and verbally abused at a Long Island group home.

The nonprofit fired the worker, who took a job with another provider and denied the allegations.

The new justice center is assuming oversight authority from the former state Commission on Quality of Care, which Weisenberg said brought forward few arrests or disciplinary cases.

Instead, reported incidents were referred back for investigation by the caretaker agencies themselves. "I want to make sure the parents and families and the victims of the abuse and neglect will have an ability to be participating in the government's running of this," he said.

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