NYS Leg to Convene Thursday for ‘Extraordinary Session’

June 27, 2022

Hochul calls for ‘extraordinary session’ on gun issues

JUNE 27, 2022

Gov. Kathy Hochul said late Friday she is convening an “extraordinary session” of the state legislature on Thursday to pass new gun safety legislation following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on concealed firearm carry permits.

Progressive lawmakers and advocates are also pressing Democratic leadership to include in the agenda the “Equality Amendment,” to protect the rights to an abortion, same-sex and interracial marriage, and the “reproductive freedom and equity program,” to increase access to abortion. (TU)

New York advocates and abortion providers warned that the Supreme Court decision will result in a surge in demand for reproductive health services in states that allow abortion, including New York. (TU)

In other news…

N.Y. agencies targeted in class-action suit over hospital discharge delays for people with disabilities

Albany Times Union

ALBANY — A federal class-action suit filed last week charges that the state Department of Health (DOH) and Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD violate the rights of hundreds of New Yorkers with developmental disabilities each year by keeping them in restrictive institutional settings unnecessarily.

The case, filed June 16 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Disability Rights New York (DRNY), the Manhattan-based Kasowitz Benson Torres law firm and Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS), names eight individuals with disabilities who against their wishes are locked away in hospital rooms or prison-like facilities despite having been approved for placement in community-based housing.

One plaintiff, a 32-year-old woman from Albany whose initials are M.L., has been living at Sunmount Developmental Center, an isolated, fenced-in facility in Tupper Lake, since October 2012. Last year, parents told the Times Union they’d been left with no alternative to sending their disabled children to the remote facility.

M.L. has been diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability, childhood traumatic brain injury, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

She lived with her grandmother until she was 12 and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital at 16, eventually attending a residential school for children with disabilities where she benefited from a therapeutic environment. She was placed at Sunmount after allegedly pulling a fire alarm but the charges were eventually dismissed, advocates working on behalf of M.L. said.

Living at Sunmount, which is cut off from public transportation, deprives M.L. of social life, family connections, work opportunities, economic independence and cultural enrichment, the complaint states.

She wants to live independently in a group home and was approved by OPWDD for placement in November 2020. M.L. was offered a spot in a home operated by a voluntary agency, Crystal Run Village, but the offer was rescinded in May without explanation.

DOH and OPWDD, which jointly operate New York’s Medicaid program for individuals with developmental disabilities, are required by federal law to develop specialized community-based residential programs and services for people with developmental disabilities in order to provide care in the least restrictive environment possible.

But many patients eligible for these programs are kept in hospitals, nursing homes, and other inappropriate facilities for prolonged periods, often years, according to state data cited in the complaint.

“We are talking about a statewide crisis. People who are approved for community-based services languish in hospitals, nursing homes, and intermediate care facilities. These are our family members who want to be part of their communities. Instead, they are forced to remain segregated in institutional settings.” Disability Rights NY Executive Director Timothy A. Clune said.

The eight individuals seek to represent a class of all similarly situated individuals with disabilities who are approved by OPWDD for community-based services but are instead institutionalized due to the state’s failure to provide community-based services in a timely manner, the complaint states.

Complex case discharge delays are a growing challenge for the mental health system across the U.S. It particularly impacts patients with behavioral health or developmental disabilities who have co-occurring conditions.

Delays are often attributed to difficulty finding an appropriate placement as well as lengthy administrative processes, according to a 2021 report from the Healthcare Association of New York State.

“Our system of care has a design flaw — it is primarily designed for people with a clear path, for those who do not have complex care needs upon discharge,” the report states.

OPWDD simply doesn’t have adequate mechanisms to transfer people with complex needs, according to the lawsuit.

The Mental Hygiene and Legal Service analyzed 12,557 transfer requests for eligible patients received by OPWDD between Jan. 1, 2015, and Oct. 31, 2021 and found that 4,494 never resulted in a residential placement.

Of the requests that were honored, placement often took more than a year.

The agency ranks requests by the level of urgency. Even individuals categorized as having an “emergency need” saw an average wait time of 278 days before they were transferred, according to the OPWDD data, which was obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request.

State agencies have violated their obligations by failing to provide the requisite medical assistance and services with reasonable promptness if at all, the court filings state.

The delays are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal statutes, according to the court documents. The class is believed to comprise at least several hundred individuals across New York State.

“Disabled individuals are being wrongly institutionalized and denied their statutory right to reside in less restrictive community-based residential settings that are more appropriate for their needs, in many cases for years. We look forward to vindicating our clients’ rights to more humane treatment,” said David J. Abrams, partner and chair of the pro bono committee at Kasowitz Benson Torres.

A lack of coordinated care options has created a situation where hundreds of patients with complex needs unnecessarily languish in emergency departments and hospital beds. Hospitals wind up serving as long-term housing rather a place to handle acute medical needs. It has taken a toll on local emergency departments.

The ethics committee at Schenectady’s Ellis Hospital wrote a letter to former OPWDD Commissioner Theodore Kastner on Aug. 24, 2020 to bring attention to the plights of two individuals with developmental disabilities who had been languishing for months on the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit.

“We are seeing a pattern of cases where people with developmental disabilities become stranded in an acute care psychiatric setting for weeks, even months due to slow access or unavailable care services within the (OPWDD) system,” the letter states. “Hospital staff are experiencing moral distress as the patient at hand awaits a bed in an appropriate OPWDD residential facility. Staff see the negative impact on the patient but are unable to do anything about it, which is contrary to their duty to care and counterintuitive to OPWDD’s responsibility to serve people with developmental disabilities.”

Ellis staff recommended adding resources to OPWDD so the mission of serving people with disabilities can be met, “correcting this ethical dilemma.”

The Office of People with Developmental Disabilities and the Department of Health declined to comment on the lawsuit. (Albany Times Union,6/22)