Is the problem NY’s brain injury leadership, the DOH, or both?

The leadership of New York State’s Brain Injury Association and Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council seems determined not to hold the state’s Department of Health accountable for anything.

Is it only a coincidence that the same people have led and, in some respects, still lead both groups?

For years attorneys Michael Kaplen and Judith Avner led BIANYS and now they head up the council.

Avner was Kaplen’s pick for assistant council chair even though she is still the BIANYS executive director. When the two attorneys led BIANYS, Kaplen was the board president. Moreover, Kaplen was a BIANYS board member at the same time he was the council’s chair. It is worth noting too that BIANYS relies on a sizeable grant from the DOH in order to operate, a reality that makes Avner’s post on the council high-risk for potential conflict of interest and, given his past relationship with BIANYS, Kaplen faces the same risk.

Violating NY Public Officers Law

Conflict of interest did not stop Kaplen or Avner from voting for a trust fund that would have clearly benefitted BIANYS. Never mind that during a September 16, 2010 council meeting they were warned against doing so by ex-officio council member Nick Rose. The trust fund was to benefit brain-injured individuals who did not qualify for the state’s TBI Waiver and BIANYS because, according to council minutes, “the Brain Injury Association of NYS ( was to) be contracted (with) to assist with the development”of the trust fund and, it is said, receive a financial percentage of the fund itself.

Despite the warning, Avner and Kaplen voted for the fund anyway, even though doing so appeared to put both in violation of New York’s Public Officers Law.  The council’s by-laws say council “members shall refrain from voting procedures in instances where a conflict of interest  may exist as defined by the Public Officers Law.”

DOH Getting Carte Blanche

As an earlier blog post points out that in its lifetime the council has never really offered so much as a single proposal to the DOH regarding what can be done to help brain-injured individuals in the state, proposals like these being the very reason they were formed in the first place. Similarly, throughout its years with Avner-Kaplen duo at the helm, BIANYS never publically held the DOH accountable for anything, a pattern that has not changed under the current BIANYS leadership duo of Avner and Marie Cavallo. Cavallo is the BIANYS board president. Another recent blog post outlines some of the issues BIANYS refuses to address publically even though they have been repeatedly asked to by this writer.

The fact of the matter is one would be hard pressed to find a single example of either group holding the DOH publically accountable for its actions, including its recent attempt to throw a 66-year-old woman with a brain injury off the waiver and charge her $24,000 in the process. It is worth noting too that in an article by Rick Karlin in today’s Albany Times Union regarding this injustice there is no mention of BIANYS. BIANYS had plenty of time to release a statement to the media because I told them in plenty of time and asked them in writing to take a public stance; a written request that was ignored by Avner and Cavallo, yet both will tell you with a straight face that BIANYS is an advocacy group.

Is the reluctance to hold the DOH accountable  a matter of morally bankrupt leadership in both groups, the power of the DOH, or a combination of both?

The Bottom Line

Managing life with a brain injury is a formidable enough challenge as it is. It should not be all the more formidable because groups like BIANYS, TBISCC, and the DOH reveal an across the board penchant for lip service steeped in moral bankruptcy. Something needs to be done. Maybe step one is for the leadership of all three to step down.

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