NY State’s Brain Injury Council & Association: the tip of the iceberg?

The early stages of a  Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition investigation into the make up of brain injury associations across the country is finding there is no shortage of personal injury attorneys on board of directors.  The investigation is also beginning to reveal that few (if any) of these attorneys received any formal training in the brain.  As many know, people with disabilities and people with brain injury disabilities are often seen (and treated) as if they are little more than potential revenue streams.

Two perfect examples of dysfunction in the world of brain injury disability will be on display tomorrow in Albany: he New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council (TBISCC) and the leadership of the state’s brain injury association; both ineffective groups when it comes to advocacy and, given what is going on around the country, they may well be the tip of the dysfunction iceberg when it comes to brain injury disability.  The TBISCC will meet in Albany in part to elect a new council chair. However, a major part of the day’s opening agenda is a presentation to the council by Judith Avner, an attorney who is the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of NY State, and someone who several sources say recently blocked people with brain injuries from being on a committee that represented people with brain injuries (fiction writers would he hard pressed to come up with story lines this dysfunctional).  So, council members and members of the public will get to watch Ms. Avner represent BIANYS to a council head by Michael Kaplen, a personal injury lawyer who continues to claim the chair position on the  council even though his term expired years ago.  Not to be outdone on the gall front, Ms. Avner resigned from the council at their last meeting; an organizational feat that would make a magician proud since her term had already expired nearly 10 years ago. Imagine that, resigning from a position you no longer have. Voila!

Despite the fact some of the council members genuinely care about the council’s mission (to provide goals, ideas and strategies to the DOH to improve the life of New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities), the council, to date, has failed miserably. There are several reasons for this. The two council chairs to date, first, Charles Wolf, then, Michael Kaplen, are about as self-serving as it gets. At one point Wolf nominated himself for the position of chair and Kaplen, well…Kaplen’s term as chair expired some years ago but there he sits, claiming the mantel. Another reason for the councils failure is the state’s Department of Health, about as insular and arrogant a state agency that’s ever “walked” the planet.

And then, of course, there have been members of the Brain Injury Association of NY State on the council which is a glaring conflict of interest given the fact the DOH provides the association with a sizeable grant.

There is some hope for the council. If council members elect Barry Dain as chair, the council has a chance of moving in the right direction. If it re-elects Kaplen, nothing will change, and New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities, their families, and the healthcare providers that really do care will be the ones that suffer. The meeting tomorrow is open to the public. Following is the agenda:

 

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SERVICES COORDINATING COUNCIL

Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level

Meeting Room 125

Friday, May 31, 2013

10:30 AM – 3:30 PM

AGENDA

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

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Some thoughts on NY State’s TBI Council

For several reasons, immoveable objects all, I will not be able to attend the meeting this Friday of the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council (TBISCC). Given this, I thought I might offer a few thoughts about the council (the council agenda will be presented at the end of this missive).

There is no doubt that the TBISCC, were it blessed with healthy leadership, could play a very healthy role in the lives of New York State residents who live with brain injuries. There is certainly no harm, nor do I think anyone in the state’s Department of Health would be upset, were the council to live up to its mandate and offer healthy proposals so that the state might better support the right of those living with brain injuries to live as independently as possible.

In order for this to happen, the council must free itself of the self-absorbed rather unpleasant likes of Michael Kaplen. As an earlier piece in this blog explains, Kaplen’s term on the council expired in 2004 . This fact has not stopped Kaplen from acting as the council’s chair.  The council’s vice-chair, Judith Avner, saw her term expire in 2003, yet she too remains on the council.

Kaplen and Avner are wrong to continue in their current posts when their terms have long since expired. Council members need to step up and address the issue. This writer, as readers of this blog already know, thinks Kaplen needs to leave the world of brain injury altogether, the sooner the better. However, the council would benefit from Avner’s continued presence as a representative of the Brain Injury Association of NY State. She is their executive director. While I do not think BIANYS members ought to be on the council proper since BIANYS receives funding from the New York State Department of Health, I think it is critically important that BIANYS have a firm seat at the table as a non-voting council member, much like various state agencies do.

There are some good people on the council and, though we’ve clashed from time to time, there are some good people in the NY State DOH. This next meeting will be a litmus test for all. Will they allow Kaplen to just push on forward as if he is still the chair and say nothing? Or, will they hold him accountable, and dismiss him from the council, or, document he has been reappointed by God knows what fool, and then hold elections for the chair and vice-chair of the council?

If the council acts as if its business as usual, and Kaplen is allowed to remain at its head, then every single person in the room has brutally betrayed the very people they are pledged to serve, New York State residents who live with brain injuries and their families and friends.

 

 

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SERVICES COORDINATING COUNCIL

NYS Department of Health

875 Central Avenue, Albany, New York

(Main Conference Room)

Friday, April 20, 2012

10:30 AM – 3:30 PM

AGENDA

10:30am – 10:45am Welcome

Introduction of New Member

Review and Approval of Minutes from

September 12, 2011 Meeting

10:45am – 12:00pm New York State Five Year TBI Action Plan

Carla Williams, Deputy Director, Division of Long Term Care, NYSDOH

12:00pm – 1:15pm LUNCH (Members on their own)

1:15pm – 2:00pm Impact of MRT proposals on TBI and NHTD waivers:

Medicaid Managed Care and Repatriation of individuals served out of NYS

Jason Helgerson, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Health Insurance Programs and NYSDOH Medicaid Director

2:00pm – 2:30pm Update on Stakeholder Committee Discussion of Coordinated Medicaid Managed Care Program for Individuals with TBI

Joseph Vollaro, PhD.

2:30pm – 3:00pm Subcommittee reports

· Healthcare Reform/Non-Waiver Service Needs

· Public Awareness/ Injury Prevention and Information Dissemination

3:00pm – 3:30pm Public Comment/Summary/Next Steps/Adjournment

Michael Kaplen needs to go

If I could flip a switch that would completely remove one person from the world of brain injury, Michael Kaplen would vanish.

Apparently, the fact his term on NY State’s Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council ended in 2004, coupled with the fact elections appear to be way overdue for the position of council chair, a post he clings to like Linus clings to his blanket, means nothing. The agenda released for the TBISCC’s meeting on March 1 (see below) reveals Kaplen has no intention of addressing either of these issues. One  hopes council members and the New York State Department of Health will hold him accountable, even though doing so may result in a Kaplen hissy fit.

Living with a brain injury is a formidable challenge and then some. But we are not the only ones facing tough challenges.  The challenges the New York State Department of Health  faces in it relationship to services for New Yorkers with brain injuries are formidable to say the least. So too are the intensely formidable challenges the Brain Injury Association of NY State faces in its work. 

But here’s the difference. When I talk with BIANYS leaders like Judith Avner, the executive director, and Marie Cavallo, the president, there  are things we agree on and things we disagree on. What all three of us have in common is this; we all truly care. When I talk with Mark Kissinger, Deputy Commissioner for the DOH, and Mary Ann Anglin, a division director for the DOH, there are things we agree and disagree on. But again, what do we have in common? We all care.

I don’t believe for a millisecond that Michael Kaplen cares. I don’t think he cares about anything but Michael Kaplen. I can also tell you that if you ever want to speak with him and can’t find him, just take out a camera and he’ll appear before your eyes in a flash. One particular rather self-serving behavior of Kaplen’s provides, perhaps, a clue to what he is all about. Past BIANYS board members as well as this writer remember times at board meetings that he would go around the table and place a business card – from his law firm – at each person’s place at the table. One year at the NYS DOH’s Best Practice Conference, at a time when Kaplen was the BIANYS president, a couple of us noticed that he was going around the entire room, which seated 1,000 people if not more, placing business cards from his law firm on each and every table. To this day he may not know that I went around the room and, with the help of an ally, removed nearly all the cards.

It will surprise few, if any, that when the BIANYS board voted on a well-designed ethics policy, every board member voted in favor, except for Kaplen. He chose to abstain.

In my opinion, Kaplen is a bully. I have seen him threaten to embarrass every member of the BIANYS board of directors because there were some who had an opinion that differed from his. In fact, his behavior was so nasty,  the board had to break so some members could gather themselves. One board member, a woman with a brain injury who was at her first meeting,  was so frightened by Kaplen’s behavior she was shaking.

In one of the first TBISCC meetings I attended I watched an exchange between Kaplen and Mary Ann Anglin. Ms. Anglin was asking a series of perfectly reasonable questions. Kaplen could not have been more unpleasant or acted more put out if he’d gone to Actor’s Studio  to master the display of both conditions.

At another TBISCC meeting an American Veteran in attendance who lives with a brain injury asked a question of a presenter. The veteran was immediately pulled up short by Kaplen who sternly explained that now was not the time for him to be asking questions. When, moments later, two council members offered to give their time to the veteran so he could voice his question, Kaplen yelled at them. Like I said, he’s a bully, and like most bullies, he’s a wimp.

Kaplen has also taken his runs at me. A few years back he represented me (with significant help from another attorney behind the scenes) in a case against what was then called the NY State Crime Victims Board. On one occasion I left him a voice mail with some questions. He then left me a voice mail angrily telling me not to ask him stupid questions (this from a man whose law firm claims to act with compassion towards people with brain injuries). Then, when the judge had the case under review, I left him a message telling him that whatever the judge decided, we needed to talk to determine how best to roll out our response to the media.

Can you guess how I found out the judge ruled in our favor? A reporter called me to ask me my response to the ruling. Who told the reporter? Right. Kaplen. And so, I decided to have some fun. I left Kaplen a voice mail. In it I told him that he should be grateful that it was not 25 years earlier because had he done this back then I simply would’ve taken him outside and slapped the sh*t out of him. He later whined that I’d threatened him. No, I explained, I did not threaten you. I simply explained what would’ve happened to you 25 years ago, so, be happy; you’re a lucky man.

The world of brain injury in New York is not lucky to have Michael Kaplen in their midst. It is my hope the council will stand up to his bullying and cut him loose.  If they do, then we can all be lucky together. And then, we can all focus on the difficult challenge of supporting each and every New Yorker with a brain injury in their just quest to reach their maximum level of independence.

****

As promised:

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SERVICES COORDINATING COUNCIL

NYS Department of Health

875 Central Avenue, Albany, New York

(Main Conference Room)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

10:30 AM – 3:30 PM

AGENDA

10:30am – 10:45am Welcome

Introduction of New Member

Review and Approval of Minutes from

September 12, 2011 Meeting

10:45am – 12:00pm New York State Five Year TBI Action Plan

Carla Williams, Deputy Director, Division of Long Term Care, NYSDOH

12:00pm – 1:15pm LUNCH (Members on their own)

1:15pm – 2:00pm Impact of MRT proposals on TBI and NHTD waivers:

Medicaid Managed Care and Repatriation of individuals served out of NYS

Jason Helgerson, Deputy Commissioner, Office of Health Insurance Programs and NYSDOH Medicaid Director

2:00pm – 2:30pm Coordinated Medicaid Managed Care Program for Individuals with TBI

Joseph Vollaro, PhD.

2:30pm – 3:00pm Subcommittee reports

· Healthcare Reform/Non-Waiver Service Needs

· Public Awareness/ Injury Prevention and Information Dissemination

3:00pm – 3:30pm Public Comment/Summary/Next Steps/Adjournment

The care-less leadership in NYS’s DOH & TBISCC

I think I’ve reached the age where if someone is going to lie to me, the least they could do is make a little effort and be halfway good at it. Bad enough there are irresponsible, unethical people who have power over the lives of others, worse when those people lie and make the rules up as they go along, endangering lives of others in the process.

A November 5 article in the New York Times about the frightening state of affairs in New York State is chilling.  It also accurately reflects the kind of sloppy sub-standard oversight the New York State Department of Health has brought to the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Waiver

It is a well known fact that the DOH refuses to tell people who file complaints related to the TBI Waiver the results of their complaints. They never have. In fact, several Regional Resource Development Specialists, DOH contract employees who oversee the waiver in various regions throughout the state, have told this writer and others they are instructed not to provide the results.  Until recently when their contract to answer the complaint line ended, even the Brain Injury Association of NY State was never informed of the results.

This kind of mangled dysfunction may explain why Deputy DOH Commissioner Mark Kissinger  reminded me last week of the comedian Richard Pryor. Pryor used to tell the story of how his wife caught him in bed with another woman. “You gonna believe me or your lyin’ eyes?!” Pryor exclaimed. And so it was that when last week I emailed Mr. Kissinger asking – again – when the DOH was going to inform complaints of the results of their complaints, he wrote back saying the DOH does inform complainants of the results! Like I said, if someone is going to lie to me the least they could do is make an effort not to sound, well, like a fool. And so, I sent him the dates of complaints I filed in 2010 and 2011 and am still waiting for the results. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that a freedom of information request I filed this summer with the DOH asking for the results of my complaints was denied.

And then of course we have the chair of the Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council Michael Kaplen who will never remind anyone of Richard Pryor. Kaplen, whose term on the council expired in 2004, still clings to his seat and chairmanship like his life depended on it. His true colors showed during the September 12 council meeting when he  immediately moved to adjourn the meeting  after the council was publicly informed  by this writer that the quality of lives and the lives themselves of waiver participants were at risk because of the DOH. And, when the DOH and New Yorkers with brain injuries could benefit from a TBISCC if it did what its supposed to do, provide proposals to the DOH to better the lives of New Yorkers with brain injuries, Kaplen cancelled the council meeting scheduled for November 15 and provided no follow-up date.

Neither Kaplen nor the DOH will explain the reasons for the cancellation. It has become clear that most if not all council members were given no explanation of the cancellation either.

Let me be clear, the TBI Waiver and the TBISCC are critically important to the lives of New Yorkers with brain injuries. They just need to be run by people who give a damn and who are inclusive in their approach.

Two things: if people suffer and or lose their homes or  lives because of the actions or inactions of the DOH, those in the DOH should be charged, tried, and, if found guilty, jailed. And if the DOH wants to, say, take one small step in the right direction, it might be interested to know that the New York City number it now gives out for the TBI Waiver complaint line belongs to someone who hasn’t worked for them in quite some time. And that’s no lie.

 

Kaplen & Avner hijacked NY State’s Brain Injury Council

In what can only be described as a self-serving power grab and utter disrespect for their colleagues and brain-injured New Yorkers, Michael Kaplen and Judith Avner continue to control the New York State’s Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council (TBISCC) even though their terms on the council expired in 2004 and 2003 respectively.

A document released to a member of the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition by the New York State Department of Health reveals that Kaplen’s term expired on February 12, 2004 and Avner’s term expired on August 9, 2003.  The fact they continue to show up at meetings and claim the mantel of council chair and vice-chair is, at minimum, an astonishing display of arrogance and, in an even harsher light,  a rather self-serving desire on both their parts to be the center of attention and control the state’s dialogue on brain injury.  Avner is the current executive director of the Brain Injury Association of NY State,  Kaplen is its past president. Both are lawyers. Advertisements for Kaplen’s law firm display a focus on representing brain-injured New Yorkers.

The TBISCC was formed in 1994 by an act of the state legislature and it can be and should be an important presence beneficial to brain injured-New Yorkers, providers of services to brain-injured New Yorkers and, not at all incidentally, the Department of Health. By design and purpose the council is there to provide the Department of Health with proposals for services for Brain-Injured New Yorkers. A review of council minutes under Kaplen and Avner reveals that the council has offered virtually nothing under their watch in the way of proposals.

As a brain-injured New Yorker and as one whose name is linked to the largest grassroots advocacy group for brain-injured New Yorkers in the state, I can tell you that the TBISCC must be allowed to flourish and act on its mission, two things that will not happen if it continues to be hijacked by two individuals who are not even members of the council anymore.