N.Y. creates new state disability agency

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Calling the legislation a top legislative priority, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top legislative leaders announced June 17 the creation of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, a new state agency to clamp down on abuse and neglect in the state’s network of nursing homes.

This is a photograph of the Capitol Building in Albany, New York

New York’s Capitol Building in Albany

The legislation, which passed the legislature June 20, will create a new governor-appointed special prosector and inspector general to investigate complaints, as well as create a 24/7 hotline and increase criminal penalties.

In 2011, there were more than 10,000 allegations of abuse and neglect in New York’s nursing home network, which, largely through contracts with nonprofit organizations, provides housing for nearly a million people with disabilities and the elderly. The homes were the source of an extensive New York Times investigation that found evidence of of the more than 1,200 deaths in the homes that were blamed on “unnatural or unknown causes.”

“The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs will give New York State the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting those who are often the most vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment,” Gov. Cuomo said in a news release. “This new law will help us protect the civil rights of the more than one million New Yorkers with disabilities and special needs who for too long have not had the protections and justice they deserve.”

Under federal law, every state which accepts certain federal funds must designate a Protection and Advocacy organization. While in most states the P&A is a private nonprofit, New York’s P&A has long been a state agency: the New York Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities <link no longer available>.

This agency will be eliminated under the new legislation, with many of its function encompassed by the new Justice Center and the old organizations’ P&A functions contracted out to nonprofit organizations. While New York already contracts out funding for P&A services with 18 legal service organizations and advocacy groups around the state, many of these groups are currently filing applications <link no longer available> for the additional funding.