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.

 

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NY State’s Brain Injury Council & Association: the tip of the iceberg?

The early stages of a  Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition investigation into the make up of brain injury associations across the country is finding there is no shortage of personal injury attorneys on board of directors.  The investigation is also beginning to reveal that few (if any) of these attorneys received any formal training in the brain.  As many know, people with disabilities and people with brain injury disabilities are often seen (and treated) as if they are little more than potential revenue streams.

Two perfect examples of dysfunction in the world of brain injury disability will be on display tomorrow in Albany: he New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council (TBISCC) and the leadership of the state’s brain injury association; both ineffective groups when it comes to advocacy and, given what is going on around the country, they may well be the tip of the dysfunction iceberg when it comes to brain injury disability.  The TBISCC will meet in Albany in part to elect a new council chair. However, a major part of the day’s opening agenda is a presentation to the council by Judith Avner, an attorney who is the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of NY State, and someone who several sources say recently blocked people with brain injuries from being on a committee that represented people with brain injuries (fiction writers would he hard pressed to come up with story lines this dysfunctional).  So, council members and members of the public will get to watch Ms. Avner represent BIANYS to a council head by Michael Kaplen, a personal injury lawyer who continues to claim the chair position on the  council even though his term expired years ago.  Not to be outdone on the gall front, Ms. Avner resigned from the council at their last meeting; an organizational feat that would make a magician proud since her term had already expired nearly 10 years ago. Imagine that, resigning from a position you no longer have. Voila!

Despite the fact some of the council members genuinely care about the council’s mission (to provide goals, ideas and strategies to the DOH to improve the life of New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities), the council, to date, has failed miserably. There are several reasons for this. The two council chairs to date, first, Charles Wolf, then, Michael Kaplen, are about as self-serving as it gets. At one point Wolf nominated himself for the position of chair and Kaplen, well…Kaplen’s term as chair expired some years ago but there he sits, claiming the mantel. Another reason for the councils failure is the state’s Department of Health, about as insular and arrogant a state agency that’s ever “walked” the planet.

And then, of course, there have been members of the Brain Injury Association of NY State on the council which is a glaring conflict of interest given the fact the DOH provides the association with a sizeable grant.

There is some hope for the council. If council members elect Barry Dain as chair, the council has a chance of moving in the right direction. If it re-elects Kaplen, nothing will change, and New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities, their families, and the healthcare providers that really do care will be the ones that suffer. The meeting tomorrow is open to the public. Following is the agenda:

 

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SERVICES COORDINATING COUNCIL

Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level

Meeting Room 125

Friday, May 31, 2013

10:30 AM – 3:30 PM

AGENDA

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

NY State’s Department of Health: Still the dysfunctional renegade

Some change, some don’t. Apparently the New York State Department of Health  wants to keep its membership in the latter category.

In April 2011 I wrote about the New York State Department of Health’s penchant for being a renegade agency: non-responsive, at times, outright hostile, evasive, petty and resistant to virtually any outside input. I would like nothing more than to tell you things have changed, that the DOH has come to realize it is there to serve the people of New York and, in serving them, not just be responsive to their needs, queries and input,but to treat them with respect in the process. The DOH would be well advised to take a page from it’s, by comparison,  very responsive sister agency, the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Of course, doing so would require being receptive to outside input, sister agency or no sister agency. One would like to think that’s not asking too much. However, with the DOH, it apparently is.

As many of you know, I am the founder of the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition (KAC), a loosely knit but intensely dedicated grassroots group whose primary focus (thus far) has been on the challenges faced by New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities. KAC recently submitted a report to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s people as input to the state’s in-development Olmstead Plan.  Every state must have an Olmstead Plan as a result of  the June 22, 1999  U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision which, as the U.S. Department of Justice Website states: the “unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.” In other words, people with disabilities have a right to live in the community. In other words, people with disabilities have equal rights. KAC’s report, among other things, identified the state’s DOH as the primary obstacle to New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities ability to gaining and keeping their equal rights, which, includes, living in the community.

Apparently, the DOH is hell-bent on underscoring the accuracy of the KAC report. If so, it is doing a fine job.

Case in point. For some time now we’ve been trying to get answers from the DOH to the following questions. One of these questions originated with a family member of an individual with a brain injury disability currently placed in an out-of-state facility. Up until a few years ago if this persons family contacted the DOH regarding the the out-of-state New Yorker (whose care, it is important to note, is being paid for by New York taxpayer dollars), a DOH employee would follow-up in an effort to resolve any issues. That does not happen anymore. As it appears now, at this writing, New York State does not monitor the care of New Yorkers placed out of state whose care is being paid for by New York taxpayers. Now, here are the questions that have been repeatedly posed to the DOH :

1) Does the DOH monitor the care of New Yorkers placed out of state in any way? If yes, how, specifically, does it do this? If no, why not?

2) How many NYers are currently placed in out-of-state facilities whose care is being paid for by NY dollars?

3) How much money does NY spend annually on NYers placed in out of state facilities?

4) What, specifically, is the DOH policy when it comes to TBI Waiver Providers advocating for waiver participants at Medicaid Fair Hearings? (Note to reader: DOH employee Maribeth Gnozzio issued a directive in a 2010 conference call to agencies overseeing the state’s  Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver on behalf of the DOH, directing that waiver providers are not permitted to advocate for waiver participants at Medicaid Fair Hearings,  a barbaric directive that undercuts the ability of many to prevail at these hearings, something the DOH knows perfectly well. While it is unlikely the idea to issue this rather sadistic directive came from Gnozzio herself, given her somewhat problematic history down New Jersey way, as described in an earlier blog piece, and her nearly universal refusal to respond to anyone, anywhere, any time, the fact her “footprints” are on the directive comes as no surprise.)

5) Please identify the person or persons in the DOH who are responsible for providing members of the public answers in their particular area of expertise and please provide their emails and direct phone lines.

None of these questions have been answered. In fact, seeking answers has led to encounters with a new director of public affairs, Bill Schwarz, who seems to be a genuinely nice person with all the best of intentions, but who has yet to produce clear answers to any of the questions (I suspect he is not the one holding up the train, as it were). It’s also led to a non-encounter with a thus far unimpressive Keith Servis, the state’s director of Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC). When I called him directly the person answering the phone urged me to write an email to him because he “would be happy” to get back to me. Well, not that happy. He never got back to me. When I called back and asked for his voice mail, I was refused, placed on hold, and, voilà, when someone finally answered the phone, discovered I’d been transferred to the office of public affairs! Not surprising given that an August 2012 article in the Albany Times Union  shows any real action resulting from complaints against medical professionals has, well, plummeted with Servis as the helm.

One has to wonder if the DOH’s days as being a non-responsive and at times hostile agency are numbered. They are, if, and only if,  the not-so-new (at this point) governor is as committed as he says he is to making sure state agencies are ethical, responsible, above board, and respectful to the people they serve. If the DOH remains its dysfunctional renegade self, then this writer and others will have to face the fact the governor is not who he wants folks to think he is.

My money is still on the governor, but time is running out.

Postscript:

If anyone is wondering where the Brain Injury Association of NY State and the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council stand on all this, they stand silent.