Agency improves standards, cracks down on abusers in system

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The state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities has just released a six-month progress report on initiatives Commissioner Courtney Burke has undertaken to reform the system of care for more than 126,000 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities. Burke was confirmed by the Senate in April.

The agency has revamped its hiring practices, is conducting more outreach to the people it serves and their families and has been cracking down on employees accused of abuse and neglect of people in their care.

This is a statement from Burke:

“Because of inconsistent and inadequate oversight, and the lack of accountability throughout the system, the health and safety of the individuals in our care was not always a priority in the past. Our first six months have focused largely on shoring up every aspect of OPWDD’s role as an oversight agency. That included how we hire, train, support, and hold the workforce accountable, as well as improving operations internally and throughout our vast network of nonprofit providers. We will continue to enact health and safety measures, and also work closely with our partners across the system to improve the care we provide and to create new opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.”

These are some highlights of the progress:

— OPWDD nearly doubled the number of employees the agency wants terminated for abuse and neglect to 130.

— The percentage of physical-abuse allegations reported to law enforcement increased from 16 percent to 93 percent.

— The percentage of sexual-abuse allegations reported to law enforcement from 75 percent to 98 percent.

— Hiring practices were changed to require potential employees pass a rigorous system of tests that includes drug and psychological-fitness testing; have at least a high-school diploma or its equivalent as well as a driver’s license; and that their names are cross-checked with the state’s child abuse and sex offender registries.

— Non-profit providers, who provide nearly 80 percent of the agency’s services, are being held accountable for deficiencies in their operations’ safety, finances and governance.

— OPWDD is working with the state Office of Fire Control and Prevention to ensure external controls and oversight of fire safety at group homes. Fire-safety standards are now standardized at all state and non-profit homes.

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