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State probes 1,300 reports of neglect by caregivers

ALBANY -- State authorities responsible for protecting a million New Yorkers with disabilities reported yesterday that they're investigating 1,300 reports of neglect or abuse by caregivers.

The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs said those include 30 criminal investigations overseen by its prosecutor and resulted from 7,200 reports to its 24-hour hotline during its first month in operation. The center opened June 30.

"Generally, the Justice Center investigates the most serious cases of abuse and neglect, with cases of less severity delegated to the appropriate state agency for investigation," the report said. "Each case is tracked until resolution, with state agencies required to report back their findings on referred cases so they can be reviewed by the Justice Center." Agencies under its jurisdiction are the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Office of Children and Family Services, and certain adult homes and residential schools operated by the health and education departments. It also monitors nonprofit service providers licensed or certified by the state.

With investigators reviewing reports mailed to the hotline or filed online, the report said 3,000 reports were classified as "significant incidents" that have the potential to harm the health, safety or welfare of a disabled New Yorker getting state-supported care or services. It also logged 2,900 reports of financial misconduct, administrative death reports or other matters outside its jurisdiction.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed through legislation to establish the center last year, citing previous lax enforcement against abuse. That followed a report by his adviser Clarence Sundram, who faulted "decades of inadequate care" and inconsistencies in how the six state agencies set standards for reporting and investigating abuse.

Yesterday's report listed institutional steps taken since, many established by that law, including common definitions of abuse and neglect, requiring that agencies and programs they license report abuse, neglect and significant incidents within 24 hours, and establishing a 60-day time frame for completing investigations. Others are a code of conduct for staff, central clearinghouse for background checks, and training.

A table of penalties for employee discipline is under review, with union involvement required, the report said. Sundram recommended maintaining a registry of caregivers to be banned from working at the state agencies and contractors because of serious repeated abuse. The exclusion list will be new, starting from June 30, and has no names on it, yet.

State & Region