Tag Archives: New York State Department of Health

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.

 

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 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

BIANYS Avner sinks to new low

The executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New York State stopped people with brain injuries from being on the committee representing people with brain injuries, say several of the committee members whose identities will be protected.

When committee members complained that there was no one with a brain injury on the committee, Judith Avner is said to have claimed she and BIANYS represented people with brain injuries and pointed out that one of the  committee members had a family member with a brain injury. Avner does not have a brain injury.

Avner did not respond to several requests for comment.

The committee was comprised of providers and others and was tasked with drafting a proposal on behalf of New Yorkers with brain injuries for the state’s Medicaid Redesign Team. The proposal had to be filed by a specified date. Not long after Avner took her  stance against people with brain injuries being on the committee, the committee folded.

People with disabilities, including those of us with brain injury disabilities, encounter people and systems who hold to the inaccurate and misguided belief that we are unable to speak for ourselves. Slowly, slowly, this perception is eroding. However, when someone who has been in a leadership position in brain injury for years oppresses the very people she claims to care about, it is beyond unconscionable. It is a kind of moral fraud. It is also bigotry.

What would happen if a committee claiming to represent Jews or Italians or African-Americans refused to allow Jews or Italians or African-Americans to be on the committee? One would hope there would be an uproar of indignation. One would also hope that those blocking the participation of people they claim to represent are fired.

Life with a brain injury disability can be difficult enough; it is made all the more so when those who claim to care are some of the biggest oppressors.

Proposal for NY State Brain Injury Waiver: Elephant #2: NYS Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council: the Challenge & Remedy

The Challenge

Formed in 1994 by an act of the New York State Legislature, The 19-member NY State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council is “charged with recommending to the (NY State) department (of health) long-range objectives, goals and priorities”  for New Yorkers with brain injuries. The record shows it has done this. This is not to say there have not and are not council members who, if afforded the  chance to work with effective leadership, who care.

The problem with the TBISCC rests on two primary fronts. It’s leadership and the ongoing presence of blatant conflict of interest linked to some council members.

First, the leadership. Over its history the council has had two chairs: Charles Wolf, the former head of the Long Island Head Injury Association who left that post in disgrace, and, Michael Kaplen, an attorney whose practice focuses on landing people with brain injuries as clients and is the past president of the Brain Injury Association of NY State. Kaplen was a BIANYS board member during some of his time time as the council’s chair. Judith Avner, the executive director BIANYS has been co-chair for each, and therein lies the tip of the conflict of interest iceberg. BIANYS gets a large grant from the DOH.

A review of council minutes from its inception 18 years ago reveals not one single proposal designed to assist the department of health in developing and improving the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Waiver, established in 1995. Moreover, the fact that anyone from BIANYS or anyone who works for a waiver provider is on the council as a voting member wouldn’t pass the sniff test of even the most poorly written code of ethics. Moreover the council’s by-laws say: “Members shall refrain from participating in voting procedures where a potential conflict of interest may exist as defined under the Public Officers Law.” 

This has not stopped council members from blatantly engaging from conflict of interest even when they were warned not to. According to council’s own minutes for a September 16, 2010 council meeting  ex-officio council member Nick Rose warned Ms. Avner not to violate the Public Officers Law by voting on a proposed trust fund that would be raised from a surcharge on state vehicle registrations because “the Brain Injury Association of NYS ( was to) be contracted (with) to assist with the development”of the trust fund and, it is said, receive a financial percentage of the fund itself. Despite the warning, Mr. Avner and voted for the fund anyway, even though doing was clearly a conflict of interest according to the New York’s Public Officers Law.

BIANYS has a history of hands-off when it comes to the DOH. As a BIANYS member and a former board member it has been made clear to BIANYS staff, by Ms. Avner, that they are not to tamper with DOH related issues, i.e., the waiver. Is just a coincidence that the council offered to constructive proposal to the DOH regarding the waiver?

Left unaddressed,  blatant conflict of interest or the perception of conflict interest undermines the ability of this or any council to do the work it is called upon to do.

The fact BIANYS has voting members on the TBISCC is particularly disturbing. I doubt it is a coincidence that both groups, BIANYS and the TBISCC, were stone silent when New Yorkers with brain injuries were and still are going through some tough times. Neither group said anything when the DOH decided waiver providers could not support waiver participants at Medicaid Fair Hearings. Neither made an iota of effort to make sure waiver participants were informed of the results of complaints they filed. It was only last year that the DOH, to its credit, changed this policy. The point is, BIANYS members have had a role in the TBISCC and, more specifically, the TBISCC’s leadership virtually from the council’s beginning. As noted earlier, Ms. Avner was co-chair under both council chairs and Mr. Kaplen is past BIANYS president.

Does anyone with any degree of common sense in their possession think it is merely a coincidence that neither BIANYS or council says word one to the DOH about the waiver?

It is also worth noting that, until this blog exposed it, Ms. Avner’s and Mr. Kaplen’s terms on the council had expired eight and seven years ago respectfully. Apparently, Mr. Kaplen has been reappointed by a, one would hope, misinformed Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver. I am not sure about Ms. Avner’s status. I am sure there terms as chair and co-chair ended a long time ago.

The bottom line is this. The TBISCC can be a positive and constructive force in the lives of New Yorkers with brain injuries. Mr. Kaplen should remove himself from the council. Barring that, he should certainly refrain from seeking the chair or co-chair position. Mr. Kaplen’s history strongly indicates that unless he can be the center of attention, his participation in council activities will rapidly decline. And,  his behavior reflects an individual who has no business being on a council like this. His disdain for individuals with brain injuries and, on more than one occasion, his colleagues on the council ought to send him packing.  I remember attending a council meeting some time ago when Mr. Kaplen responded to a series of utterly reasonable questions posed to him by Mary Ann Anglin, the DOH Director of the Division of Home & Community Based Care Services, with a level of nasty defensiveness that ought to have embarrassed him and, it must be said, did nothing to ruffle or intimidate Ms. Anglin.

In must be said too that under Mr. Kaplen’s leadership, council committees have all but ceased to exist, and executive sessions, rarely, if ever, happen. Mr. Kaplen’s rather self-absorbed dictatorial streak has run both off the road, and, as co-chair, Ms. Avner has either supported this or been ineffective in doing anything about it.

Kaplen should go. I’ve heard first hand reports of how he has yelled at people in person and on the phone, sometimes leaving them in tears, and, as this blog reported, I was present at a BIANYS board meeting when he threatened everyone to embarrass everyone at the table.

However, Ms. Avner and the presence of BIANYS, whose presence on the council needs tweaking,  should not be sent packing.

 

The Remedy

The relationship between the TBISCC and the DOH does not have to be adversarial. The TBISCC is there to recommend “to the (NY State) department (of health) long-range objectives, goals and priorities” for New Yorkers with brain injuries. Then do so!

The DOH has plenty on its plate as it is. One would think it would appreciate a sincere effort by the council to develop and propose objectives, goals and priorities. Everyone with any semblance of knowledge about the state’s TBI Waiver has known for years the lack of training in the brain is a real problem, yet the TBISCC has done nothing? Not a single idea presented? Waiver providers throughout the state have made it clear – and made it clear to the TBISCC – that the requirements for billing for services and other rules are not uniform throughout the state. There is one set of rules in one region, another set of rules in another. The council has offered nothing.

The problems with the  council are not because it is absent members – voting and non-voting – who care. It is, in my view, because the only two council chairs, Messrs.’ Kaplen and Wolf were all about Messrs.’ Kaplen and Wolf, and because of the blatant areas of conflict of interest just described.

Several things must happen in order for the TBISCC to be effective. If they do, the TBISCC can be a truly healthy influence on the lives of New Yorkers with brain injuries and a well-deserved support for the state’s DOH.

1) All areas of conflict of interest must be immediately addressed and remedied. No member of BIANYS and no one working for a TBI Waiver Program should be voting members of the council. However, both BIANYS and the providers, represented, for example, by the Providers Alliance and other such groups, should, like various state agencies, OASAS (Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services) and the CQC (Commission on the Quality of Care for People with Disabilities) to name two, should have a seat at the table as non-voting members. Advocacy groups should be at the table as well. All have important and relevant knowledge to share.

2) Even if only symbolic in nature, the council should vote to uphold its own by-laws.

3) The council would be well-served to consider itself a working committee and discuss matters at hand during their meetings rather than have each meeting as a platform for presentation from outside groups who are not relevant to what is going on with, for example, the TBI Waiver.

4) The council would be wise to begin its own blog – free of cost at blogger.com – and use that format to announce meetings, publish proposals, and report on the response to those proposals.

5) The council would be wise to invite neuropsychologists and neurologists and physiatrists, not to mention people with brain injuries and their friends and families,  to get there input so council proposals would be better informed.

6) Last, and not least, and perhaps most obvious, the council is lacking in members who have brain injuries and family members who have people in their families with brain injuries.

 

Please distribute to all interested parties

 

Next: Elephant #3 Lack of effective oversight of  TBI Waiver