Updated 05/23/2012 06:22 PM
Mental health commissioner encourages support for justice center
Governor Cuomo is proposing a plan that would transform the way the state cares for people with special needs and disabilities. The bill has passed in the Senate, but it still needs to clear in the Assembly. As our Melissa Kakareka tells us, the state's Commissioner of Mental Health visited Broome County Wednesday to encourage New Yorkers to support the plan.
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VESTAL, N.Y. -- Jan Harmon is the mother of two daughters with severe developmental disabilities and autism.
Five years ago, her girls were abused by a small group of staff members at the Broome Developmental Center.
"It came to light that they were pulling their hair and we were wondering why there was bald spots and bruised fingers and things of that nature, they had been given Tylenol PM to make them sleep," said Harmon.
The Harmon's story is not a unique one. Officials say there were more than ten thousand allegations of abuse against New Yorkers with special needs last year.
On Wednesday, the state's Commissioner of Mental Health visited Binghamton University to ask local advocates and caretakers to support Governor Cuomo's plan to change that.
"The governor has said that this fragmented system has failed to stop people with disabilities from abuse and neglect even in state agencies paid to do this work and enough is enough," said NYS Office of Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan.
The legislation would create a state agency called the Justice Center to investigate and prosecute reports of abuse and neglect and establish new standards of care.
"It creates a single point of accountability and follow up, as opposed to the multiple silos you might have right now in mental health and disabilities," said Hogan.
Those in support of the bill say accountability is a vital step in protecting vulnerable New Yorkers.
"What it means to me is say those two individuals who were fired, they are not going to be able to go back out and get a job in this field," said Harmon.
As they wait to find out whether or not the plan will pass in the Assembly.
Some opponents of the bill are worried the investigative process at a state agency won't be independent. They want to establish a compromise that would provide more outside review of cases.