Exposing the salaries of NY State Dept. of Health officials

In a recent advocacy-email to  individuals involved with New Yorkers with brain injuries, I revealed the annual salary of a New York State Deputy Dept. of Health Commissioner Mark Kissinger.  A few people whose opinions I deeply respect and value called into question my decision to reveal Kissinger’s salary. As a result, I’ve given the matter a great deal of thought.

After doing so I arrived again at the belief that exposing his salary and the salary of others is not only the right thing to do, it is the just thing to do.

It would be a mistake to conclude my decision to reveal Kissinger’s salary was a kneejerk impulse on my part. It wasn’t. The genesis of the decision, and the continued foundation of the decision can be found by looking at one simple fact. The salaries of state employees are available to the public because they are being paid to serve the public. A visit to the website for the New York State Committee on Open Government reveals that nearly all records are available to the the public – including salaries. Therefore, the following line of reasoning holds no water for me. Salaries are available to the public but one is being unfair or unjust if they actually inform the public. 

I think New Yorkers have a right to know what their  state employees being paid. I think their right to know, and the importance of them knowing, goes up notch when, as in this case, th state employees are preparing – with what a reasonable person would believe is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s blessing – to demolish the lives of thousand of New Yorkers on the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver, and  put some of those trying to provide needed services to these men and women out of business for good measure.

The  NYSDOH has drafted a plan (without the input of stakeholders, including neurologists and neuropsychologists and without referencing a single study regarding traumatic brain injury, to transfer thousands of New Yorkers with brain injuries into managed care) that will not include the very services these individuals need and quire frankly deserve to remain in the community.

As a native New Yorker, I want to know how much money you’re getting paid to wreck the lives of thousand of my New Yorkers.

I do very much understand the concern of a few close to me over my decision to reveal Kissinger’s salary. They’re not comfortable with it, in many respects because each of them is a decent, caring, sensitive-to-others person.  I am very fortunate to have people like this in my life.

There is yet another reason for my decision. I know many, many New Yorkers with brain injuries. Many of them and a large number of their family members are my friends. People I  love and care about. So, if our friends are the family we pick, then the NYSDOH is looking to destroy the lives of some of my family members. And, yes, that makes me mad.

So, here’s some information for you; the rounded off salaries in 2014 for the following DOH staff:

Valerie Deetz, $120,000;  Jason Helgerson, $163,000;  Maribeth Gnozzio, $86,000,: Sue Kelly, $162,000; Mark Kissinger, $163,000.   This comes to a total of $694,000. In other words, more than a half million New York dollars are being paid to the very people pushing a plan that will destroy the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and put a fair number of New York companies out of business.

I think that should make any New Yorker mad. Hell, I think it should make any decent human being mad.


Open letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Dear Governor Cuomo,

I am a native New York who lives with a brain injury. I also head up the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition. KAC is  grassroots advocacy coalition based in New York, that has, for some time now, tried to work in a cooperative manner with your New York State Department of Health to make sure New Yorkers with brain injuries receive the best possible care and, of course, have their equal rights both respected and protected. 

This not what New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities are experiencing from your DOH. Getting your DOH to work with us (or anyone for that matter) and protect the rights of NYers with brain injuries doesn’t work. Your DOH doesn’t care.

In fact, the dysfunctional and denial-of-rights-respect-and-dignity climate your DOH perpetuates includes the following: anyone providing care to New Yorkers on the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver Program is not required to have any expertise at all in the brain and brain injury. Those in your DOH who oversee the waiver are also not required to know a thing about the brain and brain injury, and yet, they are the one’s deciding who will or won’t get services as well as who will or will not remain on the waiver.

You are also aware, unless of course the DOH is making it a point to keep this secret from you, that New Yorkers placed in out-of-state facilities receive zero protection or oversight from New York State. Your DOH’s rote response to this is, we have no jurisdiction in that state, a response which is, on the face of it, true, but there is, and the DOH knows this, nothing preventing New York State from filing a complaint with CMS (Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services), the very entity that allows a state to have a waiver in the first place. And, NY does nothing to protect its own outside NY’s borders, even though millions of New York dollars are spent on their care.

Over the years the problem with those DOH staff involved in the lives of NYers with brain injuries has been pointed out, more than once but these people stay in place. People like Mark Kissinger, Maribeth Gnozzio, Lydia Kosinski, and Shelly Glock, to name a few, should be transferred or fired outright. Their mandate appears to be, Be as uncooperative with members of the public and as unsupportive of the rights of New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities as you can possibly be. I’ll give you an example which, in fairness to you, I know you are not aware of. Some months ago I filed a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request asking for the names of those in the DOH who were drafting the TBI Waiver Manual. Before filing the request I asked Mr. Kissinger directly via email and received no response. At any rate, a month or so later I received notice from the Records Access Office letting me know that the DOH (Mr. Kissinger) needed another 30 days  to gather this information.  After more than two months, I finally received the answer to who in the DOH was drafting the TBI Waiver Manual. You’ll never guess. Mr Kissinger and his staff. The delay in your DOH’s  response was deliberate.

Governor, I not only liked your father, I admired him and believe him to be one of the finer governors New York has ever had. At the moment, I do not feel the same about you. I sincerely hope that changes. Overtures earmarked for you are to no avail, they  get waylaid or referred elsewhere, which is why this letter to you is being sent publicly, in the open. This will not be the last letter, there will be more.

Now, you have the reputation, perhaps unfairly, of being  something of a bully. I don’t know if this is true or not. But in the event there is any truth to the reputation, please know  I am not worried about bullies. You see, Governor, I live with a brain injury. In 1984 I was held-up on the streets of Brooklyn and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet remains lodged in the brain. I was able, somehow, to get back on my feet after getting shot. The two aforementioned realities make two things clear: I do not fear bullies and I do not doubt my willpower and tenacity. 


Peter S. Kahrmann

Pivotal Meeting for NY State’s Brain Injury Council

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.




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

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.

Justice 1 NYS DOH 0

It took the combined efforts of the NYS Commission on Quality of Care, an RRDC (Regional Resource Development Center) with real principles, the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, and the threat of legal action to get the NYS Department of Health to drop its efforts to block this writer’s request for three-white noise machines needed to manage marked noise sensitivity secondary to my brain injury.

A complete recount of my efforts to get the white-noise machines and the DOH’s determination to prevent me from doing so can be read in a preceding blog post. Suffice it to say that a ruling resulting from a December 1, 2010 Medicaid Fair Hearing overturned the DOH’s denial of my white-noise machine request, telling them that they needed to consider more evidence documenting the need for the machines.

More evidence was provided and the Southern Tier Independence Center, the RRDC in my area,  sought to approve the request before the DOH’s Maribeth Gnozzio stepped in and blocked the approval. How do you spell retaliation? Try G-n-o-z-z-i-o. However, were Gnozzio the exception to the rule at DOH she’d be long gone, but she’s not, which tells us she is an example of what the rule is at the DOH, and those DOH employees who do care, are in the minority.

Once Gnozzio blocked the white-noise machine request a request for an expedited Medicaid Fair Hearing went into effect. Once that happened, and once, I am sure, Gnozzio and the DOH realized their actions would accurately be seen as retaliation, a knowing attempt to harm me, and a flat-out violation of the ADA, they backed off. Gnozzio and the DOH also realized they were dealing with an RRDC who truly does care and was not about to back off its principles for anyone.

If the DOH wants to reveal that Gnozzio is an exception to the DOH mindset or signal that it is committed to changing it’s mindset, I’ve got a two-word suggestion that would go a long way on both fronts: fire Gnozzio.