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Art By: Chris Muzzio

Letter to Families in Reponse to NY Times Article Press Release

March 17, 2011

Dear Family Members,

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a front page story – “At State-Run Homes, Abuse and Impunity.” This story exposed widespread problems with the management of the staff in group homes managed and staffed by New York State employees. It was reported that in 2009, investigations of serious abuse of consumers rarely or ever resulted in personnel action to protect the victims. Further, the reporter states that often criminal activity did not result in a report to the police. This story tells of horrific abuse situations in which the perpetrator remained in employment regardless of the findings of abuse being substantiated. This story is echoing throughout the field and families are concerned for the safety of their loved ones.

The Arc of Westchester is proud of its history of dealing with allegations of abuse. First and foremost, we are an organization with a Board of Directors constituted by family members and family members sit on all the agency programmatic committees which oversee the services the agency delivers. In addition, our investigatory processes include a notification to the family of the alleged victim and the reports are reviewed by the “Special Review Committee” which includes family members. We use suspension in all serious abuse cases and terminate those people who are found guilty of the transgressions. We also take seriously the importance of reporting abuse. All staff are expected to report any abuse situation when observed. The New York Times story suggests that these reporting conditions, which are mandated of all organizations providing services to people with developmental disabilities, are not always followed in the State-run system of group homes.

The Board of Directors of the Arc of Westchester is largely family members. Our committee structures, reporting systems and oversight responsibilities focus with laser acuity on the safety and health of all those people with developmental disabilities we support. Further, we believe in transparency and protective action when necessary. That is the strength of a family led organization.

This story has already had an impact on our OPWDD system. Last week, Governor Cuomo named a new candidate for Commissioner of OPWDD. Courtney Burke has been named “acting commissioner,” while waiting for confirmation hearing with the NYS Senate. Recently, Ms. Burke served as Director, New York State Health Policy Research Center at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany and served as a key researcher in the areas of health care & Medicaid policy. While Ms. Burke spent almost a decade at the Rockefeller Institute, she is very familiar with the developmental disabilities field as she served as both Senior Policy Analyst and Analyst at the former New York State Office of Advocate for Persons with Disabilities.

The Governor also appointed Roger Bearden as the Chair of the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities and Clarence Sundram as Special Advisor on Vulnerable Persons. Mr. Bearden is well known to us as an advocate for people with disabilities. Currently, Mr. Bearden is the Director of the Disability Law Center of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in New York City, where he supervises project directors and program staff and serves as lead attorney on major law reform cases, including cases seeking community integration for persons with mental illness in nursing homes and adult homes.

It is obvious that Governor Cuomo is concerned about the care given to people with developmental disabilities under the care of staff employees. His recent actions attest to this. We must make sure the care, transparency of operations and oversight of state run group homes have the same level as those operated by the voluntary sector.


Sheryl Frishman,


Anne Majsak,

Chair Quality Improvement Committee

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