Lawmakers probe affect of state’s directive to group house operators regarding COVID-positive residents

The Cuomo government passed a policy last April requiring government-regulated group homes for people with disabilities to accept COVID-positive residents from hospitals and refused to publish data on COVID-19 infections and deaths in these homes.

The language of the April 10 opinion of the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Is following closely the language of the controversial recommendation of the Ministry of Health of March 25 to the operators of nursing homes.

And just like the Ministry of Health, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities has refused to publish data on COVID-19 infections and deaths – even as the federally mandated surveillance authority responsible for monitoring the treatment of people with disabilities in group homes, Filed a Freedom of Information Law request.

State Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), a member of the Senate Mental Health Committee, has partnered with Republican members of the Mental Health and Disabilities Committee to provide information on COVID-19 deaths in group homes for people with the mental and developmental disabilities.

The senators wrote to Dr. Theodore Kastner, commissioner of the NYS Bureau for People with Developmental Disabilities, and called for “thorough, up-to-date information on all COVID infections and related deaths in group homes where I / DD people are cared for” as well as copies of all communications between OPWDD, DOH and / or the governor’s office in connection with the April opinion sent by OPWDD to licensed group home operators.

The Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which regulates the group houses, issued a notice to the operators of group houses on April 10, stating: “No one may be refused admission to or admission to a certified residential facility that has only been confirmed on one or suspected reason based diagnosis of COVID-19. ”

According to the report, the operators of group homes are “prohibited from being tested for COVID-19 by a medically stable person in the hospital who is classified as medically stable before admission or readmission”.

OPWDD April 10, 2020 memo on COVID-19 approvals from RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

The language of the April 10th OPWDD opinion is almost identical to that of the controversial March 25th opinion for nursing homes issued by the State Department of Health.

After the March 25 opinion was revealed, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the opinion was in compliance with CDC guidelines and denied any impact on the health and well-being of nursing home residents. In the wake of the controversy following the publication of the opinion, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order effectively reversing it.

However, the state resisted providing more complete data until New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a critical report last month and a state Supreme Court ordered the health department to comply with Freedom of Information Act earlier this month. As soon as more data was released, it was clear that the death toll in skilled care and assisted living facilities was about 50% higher than previously reported. Fatalities from nursing homes and assisted residents have been reported as deaths in hospitals.

Now the legislators want to know what effects the similar memo by the operators of group homes had on the residents.

“These policies are sure to endanger the health and well-being of residents,” Palumbo said yesterday.

So far, however, OPWDD has refused to provide the data necessary for this determination.

Disability Rights New York, referred to by the federal government as the nationwide “protection and advocacy system” to protect and advocate the rights of people with developmental disabilities, has been trying to access the data since the beginning of last summer.

A state must have a protection and advocacy system in place to receive federal funding under programs for people with developmental disabilities. Disability Rights New York is the state’s P&A system. It has a federal mandate to oversee the treatment of people with disabilities who are cared for or treated by state, city, local, or private agencies in New York.

Disability Rights New York filed a FOIL application with OPWDD on July 1 for data on COVID-19 infection rates and death rates in the regulated group homes. Disability Rights New York said since the pandemic began, OPWDD has asked all hotlines to report COVID-19 infections and deaths among beneficiaries and employees within 24 hours.

After OPWDD failed to respond to the request for more than four months, stating that it would require additional time to respond, Disability Rights New York sued OPWDD in court and filed an Article 78 petition with the Albany Supreme Court to seek the order to force disclosure.

“We are unable to protect our friends and family members who live in these environments without this information,” said Timothy Clune, editor-in-chief of Disability Rights New York, in a press release announcing the lawsuit on Nov. 23 has been. The lawsuit is still pending.

An Albany County Supreme Court judge earlier this month ordered the Department of Health to provide data on COVID deaths in nursing homes, requested at the request of the Empire Center information center under the Freedom of Information Act. In this case, the health department postponed its response to the FOIL. The court ruled that the health department violated the Freedom of Information Act. The repeated postponements by six months represented a “constructive denial” of the motion, the court said.

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