Cuomo’s dysfunctional Department of Health remains unchecked

An attorney for New York State’s records access office says the state’s Department of Health does not maintain records identifying how many New York State Medicaid recipients with brain injuries are placed out of state. A shocking admission given the DOH has spent roughly 1.5 billion of the state’s Medicaid dollars on New Yorkers placed out of state from 2003 to 2013.

In a March 21 letter responding to a FOIL (Freedom of Information ) request filed by this writer asking, in part, how many New York State Medicaid recipients with brain injury disabilities are currently placed out of state, Elizabeth Sullivan, an attorney for the state’s records access office,  says “the department [of health] does not maintain Medicaid data for those diagnosed with (brain injuries) as no such coding exists exclusively for these diagnoses.”

Just when you think it impossible for the state’s DOH to appear even more dysfunctional – and disingenuous – the DOH proves you wrong. There is ample evidence of disingenuousness when it comes to the DOH. One example would be a sentence in Ms. Sullivan’s letter to me: “Upon further review of your conversations with Mr. (John) Harper (of the state’s Office of Health Insurance Programs) this office has determined the following enclosed tables are responsive to your request.”  Kudos to Ms. Sullivan for a well-written sentence. One minor problem with its content; I never had conversations with Mr. Harper. As for the tables she references. They list the numbers of New York residents on Medicaid placed out of state but whether they have brain injuries or not is anyone’s guess.

Another example of the DOH’s disingenuousness is its public assertion that it cares about New Yorkers who live with brain injuries yet when those who are stakeholders seek to work with the DOH to improve the lives of NYers with BID, the DOH gives them the straight arm. The DOH recently took part in a phone conference with representatives from  the Brain Injury Association of NY State, the Center for Disability Rights, Disability Rights NY (the state’s protection and advocacy agency), the Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordination Council (TBISCC) and the state’s Justice Center. It didn’t matter that the DOH had the agenda for a week, nor did it matter the agenda asked the DOH to clearly identify the number  of New Yorkers with BID placed out of state, and, clearly identify what support family members of those placed out of state could count on from the DOH. DOH representatives on the call provided none of the information sought. The DOH would not commit to a follow-up meeting with the stakeholders.

There is an effort underway to create an independent office for brain injury in the state. Good idea. But the current effort asks that the office remain in the control of the DOH. The very notion of the office being under the control of the DOH is a betrayal of New Yorkers with BID and their families. In truth, the office would be well-situated in a non-state agency, a non-profit that knows the plight of those who live with disabilities: CDR (Center for Disability Rights) would, at this point, be this writer’s choice. In fact, if the Cuomo administration wants to prove their claim of caring about individuals with BID is more than lip service (as well as his voiced commitment to ethics reform), then it should recognize that both the TBI and Nursing Home waivers  would be well-served under CDR’s leadership.

Over the past few years this blog has more than once memorialized the truly sickening mess that is the DOH. Examples abound: for 15 years plus  if you were a participant in the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Waiver and filed a complaint, the DOH never informed you of the results of your complaint. For 15 years the DOH’s most powerful person, when it came to the TBI Waiver, was Timothy J. Feeney, who then and now misrepresented his educational credentials, telling all the world he had a PhD and a Masters Degree when, in truth, both documents were issued by a now defunct diploma mill off the coast of Australia and were not and are not recognized as valid anywhere on planet earth.

Then, of course, you have the saga of Maribeth “Knuckles” Gnozzio. Knuckles, who wields enormous power on both the TBI Waiver and the Nursing Home and Transitions Waiver fronts, appears to have escaped federal prosecution thanks to a deal cut by her husband, Robert Janiszewski, who was convicted in 2002 of extortion and tax evasion by federal prosecutors. As this blog pointed out in January, Cuomo’s stated commitment to ethics reform is nothing more than smoke and mirrors if Gnozzio remains in place.  Reform “doesn’t seem to be on Knuckles Gnozzio’s mind. In 2010 she was the one who issued the verbal directive blocking waiver staff from advocating for waiver participants at Medicaid Fair Hearings, a move that has undermined the ability of many to truly represent themselves, which was Knuckles plan? Was it Cuomo’s plan as well? Or did he simply not know what his DOH was doing. He has known for some time now, and still not change. It was also Knuckles Gnozzio that directed that the housing subsidy this writer was receiving when he was on the TBI Waiver be taken away and it was Knuckle’s Gnozzio who led the effort to deny this writer a request for white noise machines secondary to sound sensitivity related to my brain injury. Gnozzio needs to go and, if Cuomo is telling the truth about his commitment to ethics reform, she will. If he isn’t, she won’t.”

It seems to me that the best thing that could happen for New Yorkers, in and out of state, who live with BID, is for the DOH to be removed from the equation altogether.

BIANYS & NY State DOH: Birds of a feather (my apology to the birds of the world)

Trying to get New York’s Brain Injury Association and Department of Health to openly deal with some of the challenges faced by brain injury survivors in the state is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.

A case in point. Both BIANYS and DOH are tied by contract to the traumatic brain injury waiver complaint line. I can tell you from first hand experience and from hearing the experience of others from all over the state that if you file a complaint you will never learn the results, not ever.

I recently wrote to DOH Deputy Commissioner Mark Kissinger pointing out the injustice, not to mention the possible violation of due process set forth in the Constitution’s 14th amendment. He wrote back saying he would have his staff look into it and get back to me soon. Never heard another word from him, despite follow-up emails on my part.

Then I wrote to the BIANYS board president, Marie Cavallo, and executive director, Judith Avner, asking BIANYS to take a public stance citing the injustice of complainants being ignored. The request was ignored. Scary that these two are the leaders of a non-profit organization that on its website makes the following claim: “Since 1982, we have provided information, resources, programs, advocacy, and support services to brain injury survivors, family members, health care professionals, and educators.” They are absolutely right when they talk about the provision of information and resources and, to some extent, programs, but it is highly disingenuous of them to claim they are an advocacy organization because they are not.

Keep in mind, I’ve asked Avner and Cavallo, in writing, on more than one occasion, to take a public stance regarding the complaint line. They  ignored the request. I’ve asked them in writing to take a public stance regarding the DOH directive blocking TBI Waiver staff from advocating for their clients at Medicaid Fair Hearings. They ignored the request. I asked them in writing to take a stance regarding DOH’s mangling of the rent subsidy which has resulted in quite a few brain-injured individuals getting eviction notices. They ignored the request. I asked them in writing to issue some kind of public statement regarding the heartbreaking case of Francine Taishoff who had her life put in jeopardy by the DOH. They ignored the request.  And I’m a BIANYS member!

I hope the BIANYS board steps in and either straightens out or replaces both of them.

And then we have the DOH.

I sent several emails to Maribeth Gnozzio asking her to address the directive she gave last year blocking waiver staff from advocating for their clients at Medicaid Fair Hearings. Gnozzio ignored the emails. So did the DOH officials copied on them: Kissinger, Mary Ann Anglin and, of course, the DOH’s “tough guy wannabe” Carla Williams.

The pattern in both groups, at least as far as their leadership is concerned, is to do ignore anyone and everyone who holds them accountable and, God forbid, calls on them to do what they say they do in the first place.

NYS DOH Threatens Advocate’s Home

In what can best be described as an astonishing but not-surprising act of callousness, the NYS Department of Health has decided to take away a housing subsidy it already approved for a brain injury advocate. They say they are doing this because of paperwork mistakes – paperwork mistakes they made.

It will come as no surprise that I am the advocate in question and it will certainly come as no surprise that Maribeth Gnozzio aka Maribeth Janiszewski of New Jersey corruption fame played a role in the decision.

Here’s the background. I am on the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver. Earlier this year with the help of my case manager, they are called service coordinators in TBI Waiver parlance, I applied for a housing subsidy. The application made its way through the process and the DOH approved it. However, the DOH  approved the housing subsidy under the states’ Nursing Home Transition Waiver, or the NHTD Waiver as it is commonly called. Now, because of their mistake (Was it a mistake? Or was it a set-up as some are already asking) they’ve decided I’ll pay for their mistake and lose the subsidy.

I’ve been told my subsidy will end as of July 31st and, well, that’s just too bad as far as DOH is concerned. When my case manager had a phone conference with them, who was on the call, making sure no flexibility was allowed? Gnozzio.

When the idea of my transitioning from the TBI Waiver to the NHTD Waiver was proposed, the answer was sure, he can transition, but he still loses the subsidy, too bad if he loses his home.

They should stop calling themselves the Department of Health because health is the last thing they’re concerned with. Maybe they should just call themselves, the Department.

It seems likely I will be approved for a Section 8 subsidy in the next few months, unless, of course, the DOH can find a way to sabotage that too. Bridging the gap between subsidies is the dangerous part of the equation.

If you are wondering if the DOH’s behavior  is going to make me back off on my advocacy, not a chance. After all, I’ve been shot in the head at point blank range. I’m not about to be intimidated by a renegade state agency nor some pitiful corruption story from New Jersey.