The state must protect the most vulnerable among us. That was the point Gov. Andrew Cuomo made Thursday at the .
He presented legislation at a press conference that would strengthen standards and practices for protecting people with special needs and disabilities.
"I will not allow a patient in the care of this state to be abused. Period," Cuomo said to applause from the audience assembled in Maura Hall.
The proposed legislation will create a Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which will have a special prosecutor and inspector general. They will investigate reports of abuse and neglect, eventually prosecuting allegations that rise to the level of a crime.
Cuomo said that for the 17 months he has been governor he has been trying to undo the damage caused by years of apathy and neglect, particularly where the economy is concerned.
But he said this legislation is a 180-degree turn from what the state normally does and will affect over 1 million New Yorkers and their families.
Making criminal cases out of suspected abuse or neglect is extremely difficult, Cuomo said, reminding the audience that he was a district attorney.
"So let's set up a special prosecutor who specializes in these types of cases," he said.
Part of the presentation of the proposed law was a Rye mother—Kathy Salom—who spoke of her son David, who is now 35 and is in a state-run facility for the disabled.
Salom talked about her son being physically injured "at the hands of someone who was supposed to be caring for him."
She said the health-care worker scratched David's face, did not have the injury treated and allowed it to become infected.
Salom filed charges, but after a 15-month investigation they were dismissed, because there were no corroborating witnesses.
"This is why we need the Justice Center," she said.
Other components of the proposed legislation include:
- Creation of a statewide 24/7 hotline staffed by professionals to ensure abuse allegation are promptly reported to law enforcement
- Development of a register of workers who have committed serious acts of abuse who will be prevented from working again with people with disabilities
- Development of common standards for investigations
- Consolidation of background check procedures
- Creation of a code of conduct for all individuals who work with people with disabilities
At times leading the applause for Cuomo's presentation were 12 people from the Yonkers Jawonio Advocacy Group.
, which started in Rockland County, has service locations in Rockland and Westchester counties in New York and Bergen and Passaic counties in New Jersey.
Chief Communications Officer Diana Hess said she was just as engaged watching the YJAG members react to the governor's speech as she was with what was being proposed.
"They were standing and cheering the governor as he spoke," Hess said.
She said she thought the legislation was groundbreaking and would affect and impact the people her organization serves, along with the 1,000 staff members, who she calls "the heart and soul of Jawonio."
Cuomo is hoping the state legislature will be able to consider and pass the proposed law before its session is over in seven weeks.
"We either pass the law in the next seven weeks or we have to wait until January," he said. He added that someone said to him that "the devil is in the details" and it might take time to sort the legislation out.
"Well, the devil is in the abuse," Cuomo said, "and the devil is in the delay to wait one year to pass the law. If you are being abused, one year is a lifetime.
"I want this law passed and I want this law passed now," Cuomo said.
Jawonio's Hess said that she thinks the bill can be passed in such a short timeframe.
She said Cuomo urged people at the presentation at the College of New Rochelle to lobby their public officials.
"He said if we do what we do, then I think it's going to happen," Hess said. "I don't think we can wait if there are cases where people have been neglected."