The Poughkeepsie Journal released a shocking investigative report over the weekend documenting the state of New York's repeated failure in firing caregivers linked to despicable abuse of the mentally ill in state-run facilities since 2007.
In that time period, the report says, New York has failed in 18 of 20 attempts to fire abusive employees at a dozen local facilities run by the state that care for people with autism, Down's Syndrome, and other mental disabilities. Cases of abuse uncovered by the Poughkeepsie Journal's review of 1,900 pages of disciplinary documents involving 98 group homes and six institutions statewide include :
- A case in 2007 where, according to state documents, a female staff member at an eastern Dutchess County group home allegedly held a disabled person by the hair and forced the person to drink an unidentified substance, while peppering the person accompanied by jabs to the face.
- Another case at a home in Putnam County in 2009, when an aide knelt on a disabled person's back, while grabbing the person's face or shoulder, authorities alleged; he then "influenced" a co-worker's report of the incident, for which he faced a criminal charge of assault.
- Another case where disciplinary documents allege that the suspect "forced ... a person with a disability to engage in oral sex" in a laundry room. That employee agreed to resign and got 4 1/2 months' pay.
Culprits of the first two examples of abuse kept their jobs earning $43,000 and $49,000 in 2010, the Journal reports:
"State disabilities officials acknowledged in interviews that their disciplinary system is broken and that it fails to root out bad workers and support good ones. The CSEA, which represents most state employees working with the developmentally disabled, called abuse reports 'overblown, but agreed' the system needed fixing."
In the future, state officials say they will unequivocally seek to fire workers accused of serious neglect and abuse rather than settle cases — the way in which more than 90 percent of those studied by the Journal were resolved."
In addition to workers accused of patient abuse, workers who "engage in acts of harassment, intimidation, disruption, belligerence and defiance," faced equally lax punishment. Only eight of the 341 disciplinary cases since 2007 resulted in termination according to the Journal.
Because of strong union representation, the state usually has to settle abuse and neglect cases for less punishment than it would like. In 26 cases, for example, it agreed to fines on employees of less than $250 as the top penalty in settlements. Only 22 of the 341 cases were tried in formal proceedings, and at least a third of the disciplined employees had been brought up on previous disciplinary infractions.
The chief union for the disabilities agency told the Journal that they support stepped-up measures to root out bad workers, but maintain that the state had failed many times to prove abuse cases:
"'People are innocent until proven guilty,' said Stephen Madarasz, director of communications for the CSEA, representing 18,000 agency employees. 'If the case isn't made,' he said in reference to the low termination rate, 'the case isn't made.'"
As a result of the investigation by both Journal and the The New York Times, the state disabilities office has re-examined all abuse and neglect cases in the past five years, and identified 154 employees it had once sought to fire.
In March 2011, the New York Times released an investigative report that found widespread problems in more than 2,000 state-run homes over the last 40 years. The Times found hundreds of cases where employees "sexually abused, beat or taunted residents," and were rarely fired. The Times found repeat offenders that kept their jobs and often were just simply transferred to other group homes run by the state:
"State records show that of some 13,000 allegations of abuse in 2009 within state-operated and licensed homes, fewer than 5 percent were referred to law enforcement"
A spokesman for the Office for People With Development Disabilities told the Times in March that the vast majority of the agency’s employees were conscientious, and that its hands were often tied because of the disciplinary and arbitration rules involving the workers’ union.
When learning of the Times's March investigation, Governor Andrew Coumo forced the resignations of the agency's leader and also the COO of the State's Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities.
The Times reports that the jobs in their findings paid between $29,000 and $62,000, with generous benefits.