Working against Hypocrisy in NY State

T.S. Elliot was right when he said: “There’s no greater heresy than to do the right thing for the wrong reasons.”

In the world of advocacy there is no greater heresy than hypocrisy, especially when it comes from those who say the right things for the wrong reasons, self-aggrandizement and the ability to feel powerful. There is also no greater heresy than those who, when asked for the specifics of their decisions and actions, engage in double talk, spin, or, in some cases, simply say nothing.

And so it is that I and others have been emailing with the Brain Injury Association of NY State in the hopes BIANYS will, for the first time in this writer’s memory, permit an open-dialogue forum online for its members. This is something quite a few members (including former BIANYS board members) have asked for. The request  was prompted by the fact that a long-term BIANYS member with a brain injury resigned as a BIANYS support group facilitator in part because BIANYS leadership, he explained, might hear that those of us with brain injuries are talking but they don’t really listen to what we are saying.

There is no argument that communication could use some improvement, not just between the members and BIANYS leadership, but among members statewide.

Thus far we have suggest an online message board. BIANYS, represented in the email exchanges by its board president, Marie Cavallo, said they don’t have time for a message board but would consider it in the future. It was then suggested that BIANYS open its Facebook pages so those who “like” the page can initiate comments and communicated with each other. At first the answer to this was no because, Ms. Cavallo explained, in the past providers has used an open FB format to advertise. It was pointed out the FB permits the user to block those that abuse the page. Ms. Cavallo  then said opening the FB was a possibility but there was concern doing so would be a drain on staff’s time.  BIA from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and many others have open FB pages.

Transparency, an openness to communication and sensitivity to membership are critical components to any advocacy organization.

It is important to note that Judith Avner, the executive director of BIANYS, won’t take part in these discussions. At one point Ms. Cavallo explained this is because she, as president, represents BIANYS, but to whom? To its members? Are the members really seen as being separate from the organization? An unsettling notion at best. After all, Ms. Avner speaks at numerous conferences, fund raisers, speaks to the board, but, not, it seems, to the members. BIANYS financial statements reveal Ms. Avner is paid roughly $2,000 a week.

I don’t envy Ms. Cavallo her position. In all the years I’ve known her it is clear to me she has a good heart and genuinely cares. The question is, has she found herself in the position of, when it comes down to it, representing Ms. Avner.

We’ve asked other questions as well and are looking forward to the answers. Two of them are:

  • How many persons with a brain injury does BIANYS currently employ and how many persons with a brain injury has BIANYS employed since Ms. Avner took the helm on or about 1987?
  • What is BIANYS specifically advocating for or against, how are members and the public informed of these specifics, and how are the members included in determining advocacy issues?

Not answering the questions couple with an executive director who refuses to take part in the discussion carries the bitter taste of hypocrisy.

Let’s hope the answers come soon so we can all work together.

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:


NYS Department of Health

875 Central Avenue, Albany, New York

(Main Conference Room)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

10:30 AM – 3:30 PM


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

BIANYS ignores its members rights & more

The Brain Injury Association of NY State will not support the rights of brain-injured New Yorkers to be informed of the results of the complaints they file through the joint BIANYS-NYS Department of Health TBI Waiver Complaint line. The DOH refuses to tell complainants the results of their complaints. BIANYS President Marie Cavallo and BIANYS Executive Director Judith Avner have chosen to ignore a September 14 email sent to them by this writer on behalf of the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, the largest advocacy group for brain injury survivors in the state, which read exactly as follows:

Please note that many are copied and blind-copied on this email, including quite a few BIANYS members who are told by you that BIANYS is the leading advocacy organization in the state.

We have one specific question and would like a direct answer to this specific question. Anything less and we will continue to conclude BIANYS does not believe TBI Waiver complainants should be given the full results of their complaints.

Does BIANYS believe TBI Waiver complainants should be given the full results of the complaints they file through the TBI Waiver complaint line current answered by BIANYS staff? Yes or NO

Keep in mind, a large number of people, including your members, are watching this email and awaiting your answer.

Peter Kahrmann, KAC Founder

Last I knew BIANYS had less than 400 members, however, a significant number of those members also belong to KAC, including me. So, it is a statement of fact to say BIANYS refusal to even answer the email is, once again, another example of BIANYS (which falsely claims to be the leading advocacy organization in the state) ignoring  the rights its own members and the rights of all brain-injured New Yorkers and their families.

So far, the BIANYS board of directors has done nothing to address this.