ALBANY, N.Y. — The Cuomo administration tried to keep a whistleblower from a Senate hearing on the state's care for the disabled, where speakers Monday recounted stories of daily abuse in a system portrayed as unable to keep even repeat abusers away from the victims.
The whistleblower is Jeffrey Monsour, a state worker and outspoken critic of the system that provides care to thousands of people. Monsour's invitation to speak at Republican Sen. Roy McDonald's "round table" was withdrawn Saturday after a call by the administration of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but Monsour was invited again after The New York Times prepared to reveal the decision.
Courtney Burke, commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, told reporters it was "a misunderstanding," but wouldn't explain. She then said in brief comments to the panel that the Cuomo administration has made "tremendous" strides in protecting the disabled in the state system, while recognizing it wasn't enough for some advocates. She left after making her remarks.
McDonald wouldn't detail his discussions with the administration representatives who called his office about Monsour. Later McDonald said he wouldn't "make enemies" in the administration or Legislature who could keep him from making legislative changes in the system.
Monsour, who works directly with developmentally disabled people in state care, spoke several times at the session.
"I see abuse almost every day at work," Monsour said. "I've seen individual abuse go on for days."
He said his reports of abuse resulted in a "recommendation" but no sanctions following a state investigation. He said it also prompted retribution against him by his state supervisors. Improving the system that's been criticized for years could be done "overnight" by simply putting some supervisors on night shifts, when abuse is most common, and putting some supervisors' offices in group homes as a deterrent, he said.
"Even McDonald's has shift supervisors," he said.
"The system is extremely dangerous," said Michael Carey, a parent advocate whose son, Jonathan, died five years ago after repeated abuse in the system. He criticized the panel for being constituted mostly of state officials and nonprofit agency heads who depend on "a state paycheck" to investigate an abusive system marked by cover-up to avoid costly lawsuits and political fallout.
Carey, from the Albany suburb of Delmar, said the panelists were mostly from operators of homes for the disabled that depend on state funding, not independent of the system. He said the system must be subject to independent oversight outside of state government.
"Surveillance cameras are the best deterrent," Carey said. He called for them to be placed in every vehicle, home, school and "time out room" to catch abuse, clear the wrongly accused and discourage more abuse.
Parents and advocates for the disabled at the hearing criticized the way some of the 300,000 mentally ill and disabled are still treated in state institutions or in state-funded group homes. The Times documented thousands of injuries and deaths, sometimes involving the same workers who escaped firing or by staff hired under low standards, without extensive academic or hands-on training, and who are often forced to work long or double shifts.
"If I did any of that to my child he would be gone," said Tammy Knight, a parent advocate who had a child in the system, said of the abuse. "Why?" she asked, in tears. "Because you're tired? I'm tired ... Do I beat him? No."