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.


It’s About the Ethnic Cleansing, Stupid

“What are they doing to us?” one young woman asked, her one functioning hand gently twirling a cup of coffee on the worn Formica table top.

“Anything they want,” came the reply, this from a short narrow man with kind wide-set blue eyes, a baseball cap perched on his head.

“It’s like we don’t exist,” the young woman returned, lifting and finishing the last of her coffee. “I was in college before my stroke. Twenty-four years old and a stroke. Go figure. Now look at me. Fat from meds, in a wheelchair, and now I got people saying maybe I shouldn’t get the support I need cause I don’t need it.”

Max, sitting quietly listening, unfolded and refolded his Daily News. For reasons known solely to Max, there was comfort in the act of folding and refolding the day’s Daily News. He had no interest in reading it. Never did. It was simply that the act brought comfort. Why, he was not entirely sure. And in the nuts and bolts of it, he didn’t care why. He was just glad it made him feel better. Looking up at his friends, all, like, him, survivors of brain injury, he said, “The fix is in.”

Martha, an older woman with dark chocolate skin, sharp clear brown eyes, shifted the position of her wheelchair, said, “Max is right the fix is in.”

Dolly’s eyes wet up. “What fix? What’s in?” She began to breathe hard. The young woman reached out and touched her shoulder. “Easy, Dolly, it’s okay.” They all knew Dolly had frontal lobe damage, after all when a drunk driver loses control of his car and runs you down, the front of your brain is bound to take a pretty hard whack. Sure enough. And they all knew that Dolly got upset race horse fast because her frontal lobe couldn’t modulate her emotions like it did in the past. It wasn’t like the damage drove all her emotions like this. Mainly fear, sadness and humor. Sometimes Dolly got to laughing so hard at something she couldn’t stop, and she had one of those infectious laughs so attempts to slow her laughter were, more often than not, overtaken by the inexplicable urge to join in and soon you had a table full of people laughing and that’s never a bad thing.

“It’s okay, Dolly,” Max said. “What I mean is it ain’t about helping us be safe or in the community, its about either they can make money off us, some folks are like that anyway, or, like now, when the government wants to save money, they toss us back into the sea and don’t give a shit if we swim or not.”

“My Daddy taught me to swim when I was three,” Dolly said, her wet red face now lit up with a smile.

“See,” Martha said, “you’re better off than you thought.”

“So what are they doing to us,” the young woman said, returning to the table with a refreshed cup of coffee.

“Looking for any excuse to cut our services or throw us off the waiver in the first place,” Max said. “It’s pretty much a version of ethnic cleansing. I read once that ethnic cleansing is "the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous." Well, what do you call what’s happening. The ethnic group is us, we’re be tossed off services or denied services altogether, the Department of Health does whatever the fuck it wants, and what’s the result, we’re gone and only the non brain injured are left. Like I said, the fix is in.”

Martha nodded. “You here about that guy upstate. They denied him the waiver. My sister knows him, Freddie I think his first name is. Fell of a building when the scaffold broke, fell two stories.”

“Did he die?” asked Mort, always inclined to drift in and out of conversations, rarely getting the whole gist.

“Yeah, Mort, he died,” cracked Max. “And still he ain’t hurt bad enough for them to help him.”

“Fucked up,” said Mort, smiling, not at all minding that he’d missed the point, glad to be with his friends who loved him and he them.

“They said he didn’t have a brain injury,” Martha explained. “The RRDS said he had to get a neuropsych. Never mind his neurologist and neurosurgeon gave all kinds of records proving he’s brain injured.”

“What he do?” the young woman asked.

“Got the neuropsych. Neuropsych said yeah he’s brain injured and yeah he needs the waiver and the RRDS said not good enough and now they guy’s shit out of luck.”

“Like I said, the fix is in.”

“So what happens to us?”

“We hope we don’t get caught up in this ethnic cleansing.”