NY StateTBI Providers Alliance in Disarray

Nearly the entire board of directors for the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Providers Alliance  walked out late last year after learning two board members, the presidents of the Belvedere Brain Injury Program and Elder Choice, filed grant applications for their companies falsely claiming their applications had alliance support, said several former board members who asked not to be identified.

According to former board members, John Mccooey, president of Belvedere and Aaron Harris, president of the Elder Choice Home Care Agency, filed grant applications claiming they had the support of the alliance when nothing could be further from truth. Former board members say when Mccooey and Harris were confronted about this and asked to see the complete grant applications, Mccooey and Harris refused their request. Moreover, until this writer sent repeated requests for comment to Harris and Mccooey (neither responded), the alliance website  continued to list names of the former board members as if they were current board members. Within 48 hours of this writer asking for comment, the names were removed (months after the board members had walked out).

A look at the alliance website today lists several board vacancies.

All this is bad news for the many good and decent TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and NHTD (Nursing Home Transition and Diversion) waiver providers. The providers alliance was a great idea, a chance for providers to really work together for the common good of all. And, for a time, they did exactly that. However, former board members say the one-vote-per-provider rule was jettisoned when Mccooey and Harris stacked the room with their staff: Karina Davis-Corr, for example, is listed on the alliance website as secretary for the Syracuse Utica North Regional of the alliance; she is Belvedere’s executive director in Syracuse.

Former board members expressed disgust, seeing Mccooey’s and Harris’s behavior as little more than self-serving power grabs.  Two former board members said they’re quite sure Mccooey intends to control as much of the two state waivers as he possibly can. Two said they’d never work with Mccooey again. One former board member said Mccooey “was a bit loony.” Perhaps the gentlest review came from one former board member who said the work at hand was far too serious to be spending time with adults who act like children.

Needless to say (or perhaps not), the ones that will suffer the most are the many good and decent providers and the individuals who are or could be receiving services from the two waivers. A 2011 interview about the alliance with Aaron Harris  which can be seen on youtube is unsettling, in part because Harris tried and failed to define a TBI, saying the answer depends on who you ask. Not true. Here’s the answer. Acquired Brain Injuries are any brain injuries that occur after birth regardless of the cause. A traumatic brain injury is a subset of these. A TBI is a brain injury caused by external blow to the head: car accident, gun shot, fall, mugging…and so on. Strokes, for example, would not fall into the category of TBI.

As for Mccooey and Harris, both serve as  reminders that Abraham Lincoln was right: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

 

 

 

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.

The Trust Given Me

I recently told New York State Department of Health Officials they can trust me, and they can. I told them what I have told others.  I will stand against anyone or anything that denies people their equal rights, and I will stand with anyone or anything that supports equal rights – for all people. It’s that simple.

In early 2008 I was pretty much tossed out of the Belvedere Brain Injury Program because I would not remain silent when I saw program participants denied their equal rights by the leadership of Belvedere’s substance abuse program. The owner of the program, John Mccooey said, in front of witnesses I might add, that while my financial relationship would not change, my relationship with Belvedere would change, meaning I had to leave. Mccooey continued to pay me for awhile short time later he said I’d told someone that he was paying me for my silence which is about as absurd as it gets given the reason I was tossed from the program in the first place was my very lack of silence. So, he used a lie as an excuse to stop paying me.

While I hear mixed reviews of Belvedere today, it is worth noting that Belvedere is the only brain injury waiver provider in the state that will not allow the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, founded by brain injury survivors and their loved ones, to meet with program participants. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

Anyway, there I was, from weekly paycheck to no income at all. I’d been an independent contractor so unemployment was not an option. Given that I had not been working a full-time schedule because of my brain injury, I sought public assistance, received a rush of help from friends, began monthly trips to a food pantry, and went back on disability and my state’s TBI Waiver which, while it has its problems, is a blessing to nearly 3,000 people.

Back then some of the people who love me said things like, We know you care and we know you don’t like it when people are being denied their rights, but you’ve got to keep your mouth shut sometimes so you can keep your job, a roof over your head.  I can’t. Not then. Not now. Not ever. Who am I to put my income over another person’s right to their equality? I look at the sacrifices made by others in the battle for civil rights and when all is said and done, losing a job or a home is not that high on the trauma scale, not when others have paid for their work with their lives.

Not long after the Belvedere blow, I met up with my friend Eric Mitchell. Eric and I worked together at Belvedere and had become close friends. I told him what happened with Belvedere and said, “At least I wasn’t assassinated.” Eric paused, said, “In a way you were,” and gave me a hug.

There are quite a few brain injury survivors along with their loved ones who trust me to stay loyal to them, to not fold when their equal rights are threatened, no matter the cost.  I will not betray their trust. Their trust is one of life’s greatest gifts to me; the fact the above referenced coalition is now the largest survivor-led coalition in the state is testimony to this gift.

I was recently asked if, as a human rights advocate, I ever get scared. Yes,  I do. All the time. But I agree with Nelson Mandela’s take on courage. He said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

So yes, the DOH and others can trust me. They can trust that I will always stand up for equal rights and stand against any force that seeks to deny equal rights.

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 kahrma1@gmail.com

Keep the faith.

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