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.

 

Advertisements

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. 

Sincerely,

Peter S. Kahrmann

NY State’s assault on NYers with brain injuries continues unchecked

The New York State Department of Health is refusing to release the names of the people  drafting the new manual for the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver.  To his credit, Deputy DOH Commissioner Mark Kissinger has revealed the state’s  opinion of New Yorkers with brain injuries, particularly those participating in the TBI Waiver. He ignores them. He now ignores written requests for the names of those DOH staff (and contract employees, if any, are involved) designing the TBI Waiver Manual. Moreover, the DOH, thus far,  has not honored a Freedom of Information Law request for the names filed by this writer.

The TBI Waiver is a Medicaid program designed to keep those with brain injury disabilities living in the community and to help others return to the community. Kissinger, who has more than once and no doubt will again profess DOH’s desire to work with all stakeholders – has proven that assertion to be glaringly disingenuous. It’s too bad because the likes of the Brain Injury Association of NY State, the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council, Disability Rights New York (the state’s protection and advocacy agency),  the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, along with people with brain injury disabilities, their  families a friends, experts in the field of neurology, and more,  are all willing and eager to work collaboratively with the DOH. The DOH is not interested in collaborating with anyone.

Disrespecting New Yorkers  with brain injury disabilities is nothing new for the DOH. Things have gotten even worse under Governor Andrew Cuomo. Several, who have asked not to be named out of fear of reprisal from the governor, have said Cuomo is something of a bully. I’m not surprised. It would be nice to learn otherwise, but actions speak louder than words and given that Cuomo has a well-earned and even admirable reputation for keeping close tabs on all state agencies, it is impossible to believe he is unaware of the DOH’s disrespectful and ruthless treatment of NYers with brain injury disabilities, not to mention the similar treatment the state inflicts on those waiver providers struggling to provide the best services for their clients. There has not been an increase in reimbursement rates for them since 2007 and providers receive zero reimbursement for training their staff in brain injury.

All this brings us back to the DOH’s refusal to release the names of those designing the TBI Manual. I suspect one of the underpinnings for the refusal is this: those developing the manual have no expertise whatever in the brain or brain injury. A sickening and scary truth.

Please don’t think this is the only example of the DOH savaging the rights of New Yorkers with brain injuries.  Until November 2011,  if you filed a complaint related to the TBI Waiver you were never ever informed of the outcome of the complaint. If you were a waiver participant and your rights were denied in some way or you’d been abused or had your belongings stolen by a staff member and you filed a complaint with the DOH, you were never told the outcome of the complaint. The DOH acknowledges this. And, when it claimed to have changed this policy, agreeing to inform participants of the outcomes of their complaints, one DOH official admitted  the DOH was unable to provide the outcomes for the thousands of complaints previously filed. Given the waiver came to New York in 1995 were talking about complaints filed over a span of 16 years whose outcomes will never be provided to the complainants. Interestingly,  the DOH official who openly admitted the DOH was unable to provide the outcomes to these complaints was none other than Deputy Commissioner Mark Kissinger, the very same DOH official who now ignores requests for information New Yorkers legally have a right to.

You wonder if the likes of Kissinger and Cuomo forget they work for New Yorkers. Perhaps they simply don’t care.