By New York State Senator Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, 47th District
When our loved ones are placed in a group home to be cared for, whether it be age, illness or a disability, we should expect them to be treated with dignity, respect, and compassion. Anything less would be a travesty.
So you can imagine how disturbed and disappointed I was to hear the news that a man at a state-run group home in Rome, within my district, was found to have maggots infesting the tracheostomy in his throat that helps him breathe. This happened not once, but twice. It was shamefully reprehensible, totally unacceptable, and it should never happened.
There are many questions surrounding this disturbing event – many of which still remain unanswered. Several investigations by law enforcement and the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs were unable to determine how such a deplorable act of neglect could have occurred, so there really is no understanding of what could have been done differently to prevent this from happening. That just isn’t good enough.
Upon hearing this news, I was prompted to write a letter to Kerry Delaney, the acting commissioner of the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), and to Jay Kiyonaga, the executive deputy director of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. I expressed my utter disappointment, and I made very clear that we expect better from these agencies and the facilities they oversee.
In my letter, I called for “a thorough assessment by OPWDD to determine what shortcomings may exist that allow such unfortunate and inexcusable acts of neglect to occur.” Once those issues are identified, my letter continued, they must then be corrected to ensure that every OPWDD employee is working to the best of their ability to provide proper and adequate care.
I further admonished the Justice Center, calling out its propensity for punishing employees who are merely accused of wrongdoing yet failing to rise above an “anemic response” when there is an actual case of seriously offensive neglect to investigate such as this. The fact that the Center then went the extra step to avoid making this case public was an “even more gross dereliction of their duty,” my letter stated.
“The Justice Center must become more transparent because the public has a right to know that our state-regulated facilities are doing exactly what they are supposed to do: care for our vulnerable, ill and disabled individuals, not further their suffering,” I wrote.
I now await their response, and I am hoping that this will begin to bring about some changes that can improve the way these facilities are operated. I will not tolerate a state-run facility in my district – or anywhere else across our state – that falls short of the excellent and professional care that the residents of my community and our state demand and deserve.