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The Dansville Online
  • Sen. Tom O'Mara: Righting terrible wrongs

  • The center of attention in New York government this week is best summed up by the opening words of a special state report released at the Capitol in April, “The secret of care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”


    Keep these words in mind, and read on.

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  • The center of attention in New York government this week is best summed up by the opening words of a special state report released at the Capitol in April, “The secret of care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”
    Keep these words in mind, and read on.
    Thankfully it’s not a common occurrence, but inevitably there are times when failings come to light that are disturbing, egregious and sometimes even worse.  So when revelations like these do surface, they need to be addressed and repaired immediately.
    Put into this category what’s come to light over the past year, following a series of reports by the New York Times and subsequent internal Cuomo administration investigations, involving long simmering allegations of abuse and neglect of the mentally ill, disabled, elderly and other patients with special needs at state-run group homes, hospitals and other facilities.
    Beginning last year, the Times undertook an investigation into “widespread allegations of abuse and neglect at facilities overseen by the State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.”  The Times investigation led the governor to quickly call for an internal review and accompanying report involving six state agencies including the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and the offices of Mental Health, Children and Family Services, and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.
    This report, “The Measure of a Society: Protection of Vulnerable Persons in Residential Facilities Against Abuse and Neglect” was made public last month (it can be found at www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/justice4specialneeds.pdf). To say the least, it contains a troubling look inside the operations of state facilities whose mission, above all else, is to take care of and protect their patients.
    We can commend the swiftness of the Cuomo administration’s response, but we also have to condemn the lack of discipline and oversight that apparently festered in far too many places over far too many years prior to the beginning of this governor’s watch.
    Based upon the report’s recommendations, legislation was introduced last week calling for the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting people with special needs and disabilities.
    “This is about safeguarding the civil rights of the more than 1 million New Yorkers with disabilities and special needs who for too long have not had the protections and justice they deserve,” the governor said.
    “The [legislation] will give New York State the strongest standards and practices in the country for protecting those who are often the most vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. I urge the Legislature to speedily pass this bill and give people with special needs and disabilities a new level of protection and service in our state.”
    So this week the spotlight turns to the Legislature, and the Senate’s scheduled to act first.  The legislation’s being called the “Protection of People with Special Needs Act.”  Among numerous provisions it:
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    • Creates a new Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs to provide stricter oversight of New York’s system of human services.
    • Ensures that allegations of abuse and neglect are promptly and fully investigated, reported and prosecuted; and
    • Strengthens the criminal statutes that make abuse of vulnerable or disabled persons a crime.
    More than anything else, Senate action this week is going to try to put the words “care of the patient” back where they belong – as priority number one.