Some change, some don’t. Apparently the New York State Department of Health wants to keep its membership in the latter category.
In April 2011 I wrote about the New York State Department of Health’s penchant for being a renegade agency: non-responsive, at times, outright hostile, evasive, petty and resistant to virtually any outside input. I would like nothing more than to tell you things have changed, that the DOH has come to realize it is there to serve the people of New York and, in serving them, not just be responsive to their needs, queries and input,but to treat them with respect in the process. The DOH would be well advised to take a page from it’s, by comparison, very responsive sister agency, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Of course, doing so would require being receptive to outside input, sister agency or no sister agency. One would like to think that’s not asking too much. However, with the DOH, it apparently is.
As many of you know, I am the founder of the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition (KAC), a loosely knit but intensely dedicated grassroots group whose primary focus (thus far) has been on the challenges faced by New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities. KAC recently submitted a report to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s people as input to the state’s in-development Olmstead Plan. Every state must have an Olmstead Plan as a result of the June 22, 1999 U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision which, as the U.S. Department of Justice Website states: the “unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.” In other words, people with disabilities have a right to live in the community. In other words, people with disabilities have equal rights. KAC’s report, among other things, identified the state’s DOH as the primary obstacle to New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities ability to gaining and keeping their equal rights, which, includes, living in the community.
Apparently, the DOH is hell-bent on underscoring the accuracy of the KAC report. If so, it is doing a fine job.
Case in point. For some time now we’ve been trying to get answers from the DOH to the following questions. One of these questions originated with a family member of an individual with a brain injury disability currently placed in an out-of-state facility. Up until a few years ago if this persons family contacted the DOH regarding the the out-of-state New Yorker (whose care, it is important to note, is being paid for by New York taxpayer dollars), a DOH employee would follow-up in an effort to resolve any issues. That does not happen anymore. As it appears now, at this writing, New York State does not monitor the care of New Yorkers placed out of state whose care is being paid for by New York taxpayers. Now, here are the questions that have been repeatedly posed to the DOH :
1) Does the DOH monitor the care of New Yorkers placed out of state in any way? If yes, how, specifically, does it do this? If no, why not?
2) How many NYers are currently placed in out-of-state facilities whose care is being paid for by NY dollars?
3) How much money does NY spend annually on NYers placed in out of state facilities?
4) What, specifically, is the DOH policy when it comes to TBI Waiver Providers advocating for waiver participants at Medicaid Fair Hearings? (Note to reader: DOH employee Maribeth Gnozzio issued a directive in a 2010 conference call to agencies overseeing the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver on behalf of the DOH, directing that waiver providers are not permitted to advocate for waiver participants at Medicaid Fair Hearings, a barbaric directive that undercuts the ability of many to prevail at these hearings, something the DOH knows perfectly well. While it is unlikely the idea to issue this rather sadistic directive came from Gnozzio herself, given her somewhat problematic history down New Jersey way, as described in an earlier blog piece, and her nearly universal refusal to respond to anyone, anywhere, any time, the fact her “footprints” are on the directive comes as no surprise.)
5) Please identify the person or persons in the DOH who are responsible for providing members of the public answers in their particular area of expertise and please provide their emails and direct phone lines.
None of these questions have been answered. In fact, seeking answers has led to encounters with a new director of public affairs, Bill Schwarz, who seems to be a genuinely nice person with all the best of intentions, but who has yet to produce clear answers to any of the questions (I suspect he is not the one holding up the train, as it were). It’s also led to a non-encounter with a thus far unimpressive Keith Servis, the state’s director of Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC). When I called him directly the person answering the phone urged me to write an email to him because he “would be happy” to get back to me. Well, not that happy. He never got back to me. When I called back and asked for his voice mail, I was refused, placed on hold, and, voilà, when someone finally answered the phone, discovered I’d been transferred to the office of public affairs! Not surprising given that an August 2012 article in the Albany Times Union shows any real action resulting from complaints against medical professionals has, well, plummeted with Servis as the helm.
One has to wonder if the DOH’s days as being a non-responsive and at times hostile agency are numbered. They are, if, and only if, the not-so-new (at this point) governor is as committed as he says he is to making sure state agencies are ethical, responsible, above board, and respectful to the people they serve. If the DOH remains its dysfunctional renegade self, then this writer and others will have to face the fact the governor is not who he wants folks to think he is.
My money is still on the governor, but time is running out.
If anyone is wondering where the Brain Injury Association of NY State and the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council stand on all this, they stand silent.