Back to Belvedere

Next  Monday I will go back to the Belvedere Brain Injury Program to talk with survivors and others about the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition (KAC), the largest survivor-led advocacy coalition for brain injury survivors in the state. It will be my first time back since I was forced out in early 2008 because I would not remain quite when I saw survivors being denied their rights by some (not all) of the leadership in Belvedere’s substance abuse program. Moreover, until now, Belvedere has been, not surprisingly, the only brain injury program in the state that blocked KAC from presenting. The change in their stance is most welcome.

Neither I nor KAC is Belvedere’s enemy.

But this essay is not solely about the politics and power-play of things. It is also about my relationship with a group of remarkable people who attend Belvedere’s day programs. We worked together for years, and our bond, then and now, is deep-in-the-heart close. The forced end to our work together was not simply a brutal one for me emotionally and, for that matter, physically, it was a brutal one for the survivors. I know this because they’ve told me.

In fact, they were so upset then they got a petition together asking for my return and every single survivor signed it and presented it to the owner, John Mccooey. In response Mccooey, who I had for some time considered a friend, met with them and said, no, I couldn’t come back because of forces beyond his control, a excuse that is doubtful at best. About Mccooey: despite his brutal treatment of me in the end, were he hurt tomorrow I’d help him. Doesn’t mean I trust him, that would be something he’d have to earn back, but I’d still help him.

Mccooey back then told me Tim Feeney wanted me out and, by default, so did Pat Gumson and Bruce Rosen, the two New York State Department of Health officials who headed up the Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver at the time. I don’t know how much weight I actually give his excuse. It doesn’t matter though because Feeney has been rather right-sized, Pat Gumson has retired, and Bruce Rosen is working in another area for the DOH, and I’ve not been invited back. The main obstacle to my return was and is Mccooey and, I suspect, his somewhat misguided allegiance to a rather dysfunctional individual who heads up his substance abuse program, the same individual, by the way, who most actively demeaned survivors and denied them their rights.

I was recently asked (not by anyone from Belvedere) if I would be willing to facilitate workshops at Belvedere again. My answer revolves around what is always my focus in matters like this; what is the healthiest choice on the table for the survivors and for me. Were their a healthy way to go about it, I’d certainly consider it. But I would not consider it if I were to again be at risk for bogus accusations from the above referenced dysfunctional individual or anyone else for that matter. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I once apologized to Mr. Dysfunction for a misunderstanding and gently touched his shoulder. The next morning I learned that he’d gone scurrying upstairs like a whiney little brat to file a workplace harassment charge against me because I touched him! The charge was dismissed by the way (duh).

Anyway, it will be good to see these folks Monday. They already know, and perhaps Belvedere will figure out, that neither I nor KAC are anti-provider, not even when the provider is Belvedere. We are pro-anything that supports equal rights for all and legitimately helps people living with brain injuries achieve their maximum level of independence and we are against anything that doesn’t. As for my future with Belvedere let me just say: One day at a time.

Monday will be a good day. It will be good to see them and it will be hard to say goodbye.


Days in Brain Injury Health Care – Part I

“Remember,” a close friend of mine said when I’d just begun to work in the brain injury health care field around 1995, “This field attracts some of the most caring people and some of the most emotionally dysfunctional people you’ve ever met.”

My friend was right.  Some of the people I’ve met in the health care field over the years are the most selfless, hard working, compassionate, empowering and healing human beings walking the face of the earth. Others are some of the most controlling, selfish, heartless, greedy, demeaning, dishonest, self-absorbed and despicable people imaginable.

There are, however, some common pre-conceived notions that are not accurate. All people who work for regulatory agencies like the department of health are not heartless bureaucrats. I’ve met some genuinely caring people in the bureaucracy. Conversely, one cannot assume all people who work for advocacy organizations or health care providers are caring and compassionate.

It took me quite some  time, even with my friend’s rather prescient warning, to realize all this. I used to think that somewhere inside all people lurked a genuine sense of caring for others. Wrong. There are people who can come face to face with making a choice that will deny someone their right to heal, their right to the best possible treatment, not to mention their right to equal rights, and make the choice anyway. Choices like these can stem from several things, or a combination of several things: greed, the need to control,  hate, anger, and or the inability to realize the person or persons you are wounding are, just like you, full fledged human beings.

More than once over the years, twice actually, I’ve been taken in by charismatic business owners who convinced me they were oh-so-dedicated to helping people living with brain injuries gain or regain their independence. One such owner hired me and a friend of mine, Jimmy, we later realized, because I have  a brain injury and Jimmy has a spinal cord injury. We were, as Jimmy once put it, the token gimps, though neither of us realized it at the time.

I will not name this owner because I genuinely loved this troubled man and because he never did anything purposefully to wound my personal life, nor did he spread lies about me and seek to damage me personally and professionally.  Something that cannot be said for John Mccooey, owner of the Belvedere Brain Injury Program. 

Mccooey pretty much used me to help save a floundering program he’d inherited. We worked closely for years. I’d mistakenly thought we were friends. When Belvedere opened a substance abuse program and the program’s leadership began treating participants like dirt, I began advocating for the participants.  Not only were my warnings about the way participants were being treated dismissed, I would later learn Mccooey was calling DOH officials and others saying, Something’s wrong with Peter, something’s wrong with Peter, laying the groundwork for pushing me out because having an advocate around was no longer convenient for him. Never mind the way program participants were being treated.

Over the years I have met some amazing people too.

Judy Sandman, recently retired from the Brain Injury Association of New York State, was and is as committed to people with brain injuries as any human being on God’s green earth. Bruce Darling, the head of the Center for Disability Rights, is one of the most dazzlingly committed to equal rights human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. Judy Purdell, a social worker who is a counselor for people living with brain injuries is the very essence of compassion, honesty and integrity. The same can be said for Dr. Maria Lifrak and her staff at Comprehensive Neuropsychological Services. Dr. Lifrak is  a neuropsychologist who, along with her staff and a former employee of hers, Kristen Weller, taught me more about the role my brain injury plays in my life than all others combined. 

Well, enough for now, there will be more to come about my days in health care.

Tim Feeney, John Mccooey & NY State DOH

Sources say Belvedere Brain Injury Program owner John Mccooey may be behind an effort to get Tim Feeney another contract with the New York State Department of Health to again oversee the Neurobehavioral Project for the state.  State officials are looking into the matter. Belvedere has sites in Albany and Syracuse.

Tim Feeney had three consecutive five-year contracts with the NY DOH to oversee the Neurobehavioral Project despite the fact his doctorate and masters degrees are bogus, not recognized as valid anywhere in the world. In his last years under contract, Feeney and Mccooey worked closely to develop a substance abuse program for Belvedere that, sources say, continues to deny participants choice and in some instances locks the doors when workshops begin, telling participants they will not be allowed back in if they have to use the bathroom or go for a drink of water.

Feeney is currently under contract with the Fort Ann School District in Washington County New York  to work with children, including children with disabilities and is again representing himself as Dr. Feeney or Tim Feeney PhD. School officials, including Fort Ann School Superintendent Maureen VanBuren, have been told about his bogus degrees but it seems they are continuing to work with Feeney anyway, the welfare of the children be damned.

Some Background

On more than once occasion I have been asked what led me to investigate and  Feeney’s credentials, or, as it turned out, his lack thereof.  Some think it is because when I was forced out of Belvedere, John Mccooey said Feeney made him do it. First of all, by the time Mccooey told me that he had about as much right to claim the mantel of honesty as Willie Sutton had to a job as bank manager. Mccooey’s finger pointing at Feeney is not what led me to investigate the on again off again rumors that Feeney’s credentials were, in a word I feel comfortable using in this blog, bullshit. What led me to investigate his credentials was a change in his, Feeney’s, pattern of behavior.

One of the things they teach you in behavior management is that a change in a person’s common behavior pattern means something. In 2007 it had become clear that my advocating for the rights of those participating in Belvedere’s Albany substance abuse program was going nowhere. Participants were being talked to in degrading ways by Belvedere employee Michael Loiselle, they were being denied choice as provided for in the regulations and in their rights as human beings, and John Mccooey was doing nothing about it. At the time I had a close relationship with Pat Green Gumson and Bruce Rosen in the Department of Health. I reached out and let them know that there were real problems and something needed to be done. Feeney and his crew were sent in to deal with the problems. Historically, when the DOH caught wind of participants being denied their rights, they corrected things. Not this time.

This time the punitive rights-denying behavior of Belvedere was supported. There had been a change in Feeney and the DOH’s  normal pattern of behavior.

And so now we are looking at the possibility of Feeney being reinstated and a dysfunctional company owner named John Mccooey being involved.

Equal Rights Will Prevail

Yes, it is disheartening to encounter people like Mccooey and Feeney who apparently see people with disabilities as a way to make money and make themselves feel big and strong (both men are wimps, by the way). But do not give up. There are in fact, some good people in the New York State Department of Health and there are some truly good people in the advocacy community who offer more than simply lip service to the cause of equal rights. I can tell you that in those rare moments when I get down, I remember Mandela, King, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem and countless others; God knows they paid heavier dues than I have. So no, I will never give up and I hope you won’t either.

Make Your Voices Heard

If you share my concerns you can make your voices heard by calling the complaint line at the Brain Injury Association of NY State – 518-459-7911 – the Commission on Quality of Care at 518-388-2887 or the DOH at 518-474-6580 or you can write to the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition at

Keep the faith.



Belvedere Says No to Survivors’ Coalition

I’d like to say I’m  surprised that the Belvedere Brain Injury Program owned by John Mccooey will not let the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, founded by brain injury survivors, the very people Belvedere claims to serve, meet with fellow survivors in the Belvedere program, but this has always been an honest blog and I see no reason to change that.

Of course, preventing a coalition founded by those you claim to care about from meeting with survivors who participate in your program is a red flag if ever there was one. But I am not surprised. I worked for and with Belvedere for quite some time. I actually interviewed with them on 9/11. At first it was a troubled provider but it appeared as if owner John Mccooey truly wanted to develop the best possible services for the brain injury survivors in the program and it actually became a really good program, until, that is, Belvedere opened a substance abuse component. When that happened, everything changed.

Michael Loiselle who headed up and, to my knowledge, still heads up the substance abuse program, was about as dictatorial as one can be. More than once I heard him inflict one of his favorite expressions, “Too bad, so sad,” on a survivor who was talking about some tough time they were having. Moreover, Mccooey, then and now supports Loiselle even though Loiselle and the entire substance abuse program dictates to survivors what workshops they will or won’t attend. Never mind that the TBI Waiver, governed by the New York State Department of Health demands that the program be driven by the survivors. Loiselle and Mccooey couldn’t get me out fast enough. In fact, I once lightly touched Loiselle’s shoulder while talking with him and like a whiny little boy he ran to upper management and charge me with workplace harassment because I touched him. Not surprisingly, an investigation determined that he was, well, wrong.

As for John Mccooey, I’d call him a wolf in sheep’s clothing but I happen to like wolves and see no reason to insult them by dragging them down into the filth.


Ramblings From a Writer & Advocate

My blog “pen” has been still for a time now and I am pulled back to this page because I feel a kind of welcome connection to the more than 1,500 people that read this blog every month. Any writer not humbled by that kind of attention is a fool. And, I’ve missed you all.

I’ve been fairly active. I’ve written three short stories recently and am, dare I say it, fairly pleased with them. I eyed the possibility of trading in my car for a new one and was reminded that if  you want honesty in your life, you’re not likely to find it in a car dealership.  But most on my mind, at the moment, is a recent presentation by several healthcare providers claiming to be experts in helping those who live with the dual challenge of substance abuse and brain injury. I don’t know all the players but two of the presenters were Albany-based Belvedere’s Brain Injury Program and Northeast Center for Special Care in Lake Katrine, New York.  One of the people from Belvedere explained that Belvedere’s counselors have sessions with survivors in their cars for privacy.

Those I talked to who attended were not only not impressed, they were horrified. Survivors of brain injuries were referred to as “those TBIs” – TBI stands for Traumatic Brain Injury – and one presenter said a survivor he knew had been a garbage man before his injury and so was probably special ed anyway.  No matter how you hold that disgusting observation up to the light, it is packed with bigotry. Survivors were talked about like they were products and, well, less than human.

Do these fools not realize that when you say all TBIs you’re spewing the same kind of bigotry as the voices who say all Blacks or all Jews or all Latinos or all gays or all lesbians? And don’t miss that the people who offered these presentations were picked by their company owners and leadership to represent their companies and, one would suppose, their views. Troubling, very troubling.

Anyway, it is good to be back. More soon. My best to you all.