So far the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council (TBISCC) has done anything but live up to its legislative mandate: offer proposals and ideas and guidance to the state’s Department of Health, a state agency that ought to be the national role model for resisting any and all input from anyone other than itself, to improve the lives of New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities. Thus far the TBISCC and the DOH is a marriage made in some kind of bizarre, dysfunctional, self-absorbed heaven.
The council meets May 31 and if the agenda (provided below) is any indication, the first portion of the meeting will provide members of the public a close-up view of two of the primary impediments to equal rights for New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities: Michael Kaplen and Judith Avner. Kaplen has proven in more than one venue that he is little more than a bully and Avner, the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of NY State sank to a new low last year when she blocked people with brain injury disabilities from being on a committee formed to – wait for it – represent people with brain injury disabilities.
One wonders what Avner’s presentation on “behalf of BIANYS” will include. BIANYS staff members past and present have said disagreeing with Avner on any front results in a nasty backlash; it is made clear that Judy is not to be questioned. At any rate, given that BIANYS has remained dead silent in the face of the DOH’s behavior (one example being a DOH directive that TBI Waiver Providers cannot advocate for their clients at Medicaid Fair Hearings, a move that viciously undercuts the chances that the client living with a brain injury disability will prevail) I imagine Avner’s presentation of, well, Avner, will be a dazzling display of charm-filled lip service.
Lest you think I am overstated the problems named Avner and Kaplen, one must remember that until recently, both continued to claim leadership of the council, Kaplen as chair, Avner as vice-chair, even though Kaplen’s term had expired in 2004, Avner’s in 2003.
The DOH has allies in Kaplen and Avner. Neither will allow the TBISCC or the BIANYS to hold the DOH responsible for the suffering it is inflicting on New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities. Allowing the likes of Maribeth Gnozzio to head up the state’s TBI Waiver makes it clear the DOH doesn’t care a whit about people with brain injury disabilities. It is only by, one would assume, the grace of God (and her husband’s agreement with the FBI) that Gnozzio did not face criminal charges back when her husband, Robert C. Janiszewski, a former County Executive of Hudson County, New Jersey, pled guilty in 2002 to taking more than $100,000 in bribes. In a 2003 interview, the late Paul Byrne, a childhood friend of Janiszewski’s who was indicted for collecting thousands of dollars in bribes for Janiszewski, said Janiszewski gave him up to spare Gnozzio from prosecution.
The one ray of hope for those who would like to see the council get its ethical head above water will occur after lunch when the council will decide whether Barry Dain or Kaplen will be the next council chair. If Dain is elected, there may be real hope for the council. If Kaplen is elected, members of the council will have shown their real colors, colors that put them in lockstep with the likes of Kaplen, Avner, Gnozzio, and others.
If Dain is elected, then, perhaps, the council will reject the DOH’s proposed changes in the council’s bylaws. Examination of the proposed changes to the by-laws reveals a blatant DOH attempt to weaken a council, already in disarray, put the council under the state’s control, and weaken the current requirement that people with brain injuries and their families be fairly represented on the council.
I can tell you that this upcoming meeting will be closely watched. If, in fact, Kaplen is re-elected and the council adopts the DOH changes to the bylaws, direct action will be required and will be forthcoming.
TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SERVICES COORDINATING COUNCIL
Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level
Meeting Room 125
Friday, May 31, 2013
10:30 AM – 3:30 PM
10:30 – 10:45 Welcome
Welcome new member Megan Clothier
Review and Approval of 1/23/13 Meetings Minutes
10:45- 11:15 Review of Brain Injury Association of New York State TBI Recommendations
Judith Avner, Executive Director, BIANYS
11:15 – 12:00 State Agency Updates
NYSED Gerri Malone
OPWDD Nicole Suto/Nina Baumbach
OMH Debby Zeterstrom
CQC Colleen Scott
OASAS Cher Montayne
OVS Ann Marie Calabrese
DFS Jeff Pohl
DOH Lydia Kosinski/Helen Hines/Kitty Gelberg
12:00 – 12:45 LUNCH (Members on their own)
12:45 – 1:15 Election of Chair
Nominees: Michael Kaplen and Barry Dain
1:15 – 2:30 Discussion of role and mission of TBISCC/
Discussion of Bylaw Revisions
2:30 – 3:00 Public Comment
3:00 – 3:30 Summary/Next Meeting Dates/Adjournment