This is a tale with so many villains that we might have to assign numbers. To do so, however, might minimize the humanity—or the lack thereof—of those who bear responsibility for New York State’s darkest legacy. Thus, I will do my best to make clear where the blame lies, while acknowledging that there are—there must be—those who have done their best to do the right thing.
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo called . He noted that in 2011, New York State received over 10,000 complaints from people who have a developmentally disabled family in a group home, day care center, sheltered workshop or other facility—this despite an annual outlay of $17.9 billion dollars to do the job right. The kinds of abuse are more shocking still. There are rapes, general sexual abuse, deaths from choking and other violence, as well as abject neglect.
I was spellbound. Like many people, I thought this all ended with Geraldo Rivera’s courageous expose of Staten Island’s Willow Brook facility more than 30 years ago.
Shame on me, and shame on all of us for needing this wake-up call from the governor. A special place in the hall of shame must go to the administrators who treat human beings like “product” to be counted on for “revenue.” Let’s also reserve a special place in hell for the middle managers and caregivers who take home a decent pay check without doing the hard work and making the tough decisions that justify their salary and benefits.Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories just like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Fast signup here.
And for those who rape, abuse and beat the helpless, let them find no peace in this life until they atone is some way and do something compensatory to those they have harmed.
One of the speakers was a woman whose son was brain damaged at birth and who suffered more difficulties as he grew older requiring that he be “institutionalized.” His history of being sexually assaulted and other abuses held the room transfixed.
To my right, below the platform where we in the press were asked to set up, was a young man somewhere between the ages of 15 and 20. I could not tell because he was wearing a helmet, much like the ones they wear in hockey, along with a padded secure chin guard. Arriving late, he walked unsteadily up to sit on the edge of the platform, holding on to his mother’s arm. Clearly he had some kind of disorder that caused him to experience regular seizures or fall uncontrollably.
His interactions with his mother were the sweet, smile-filled exchanges of a trusting child. All I could think about was how and why someone would want to hurt him and I grew profoundly sad. At the same time, I grew proud of Gov. Cuomo in a way I had not been proud of an elected official since Robert Kennedy.
The next two days, however, dimmed some of my optimism. It is well and good that this publication put the story on the front page. News 12 and the Journal News gave the story fair treatment. Kudos to the local press. But the big tabloids and other major outlets in the region put it on the back pages while John Travolta and other salacious stories took center stage; shame on them too. To their credit, on Sunday, the New York Daily News made the story their lead editorial.
The governor has his work cut out for him. Decades of neglect and incompetence, union contracts and almost $18 billion dollars to be made in salaries and/or payments to state and independent operators, will make it hard.
Tonight, in many a facility in New York State, some petrified helpless person is being raped, beaten or allowed to sleep in his or her own feces. They will cry and pray for help and wonder why no one hears them. So long as we allow this, all of us should sleep a little less well until the problem is fixed.
Our legislators should sleep even less well. If they get this wrong, I—for one—will be out to get them. I hope you will join me.