Sunmount at the center of due process controversy | New


TUPPER LAKE – The controversial actions of the State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, reported in the Albany Times Union last week, led the OPWDD to restore due process rights to a few selected parents of ‘children with intellectual disabilities.

Last week, The Times Union exposed a loophole in state law that allowed the OPWDD to override the right of parents to have a say in where their adult children live. intellectual disability after the age of 21. The article focused on interviews with the parents of two people. with autism or severe behavioral problems, who the OPWDD told they should leave the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a special education school in Massachusetts, where parents say their adult children have thrived , to move to Sunmount.

Parents feared that this would stop their children’s progress and put them at risk, through developmental regression or placing them in an institution with people accused of violent crimes.

After opposition and advocacy from parents, several state lawmakers and the Albany Times Union editorial board, the OPWDD is granting these families due process rights. The change left parents happy that their advocacy worked.

But these are just a few of the families affected by this loophole.

“Due process” rights

Parents of adult children in the OPWDD system have “due process” rights that come into effect when their children turn 21. These allow parents or guardians to challenge the OPWDD on the appropriate living environment for their family member, obtain a hearing or request a judicial review.

But a law from former Governor Andrew Cuomo was passed in 2014 to ensure these options for parents leave a loophole for those rights to be bypassed between graduation and birthdays.

This loophole was used to bring students graduating from out-of-state schools before returning 21 to the New York-run OPWDD facilities, against their parents’ wishes.

Their enrollment in these schools, in other states, is paid for and arranged by their home school districts in New York City. The OPWDD said that once they graduate and are 21, the state can no longer fund long-term care out of state because they are no longer “students.”

By moving these people out of state to New York after graduation and before their 21st birthday, the OPWDD can transfer people without parents being able to challenge where the state is. square.

Essentially, if their birthday is after graduation and before the New Year, they are eligible to be relocated before due process rights come into effect.

Parents faced with this situation must make a decision: allow the state to move their child to where the OPWDD wishes, or lose state support for their child’s long-term care.

The OPWDD did not respond to how many people this affects.

State lawmakers who are members of the Disability, Families and Mental Health Legislative Committees – including MPs Andrew Hevesi, D-Queens, Thomas Abinati, D-Pleasantville, John McDonald, D-Cohoes and State Senators Samra Brouk, D-Rochester and John Mannion, D-Syracuse – recently wrote a letter to Hochul, saying they were concerned about the damage to displaced people. They call on her to stop all relocations until the state can guarantee due process rights for parents, and she restores public funding for families who want their child to stay in a school. out of state.

The letter says these due process rights are “crucial in order to avoid inappropriate placements that disrupt current treatment, home life and the familiar environment, which can lead to self-harm, inappropriate medication. or excessive, even abuse or death ”.

How is Sunmount involved?

When a returning graduate is rejected by other public schools because of their background or because of significant need, they may be referred to Sunmount.

“Often times, OPWDD is able to provide support in a group home within the community of the person’s choice,” OPWDD said in a statement. “However, if they need a higher level of support than a group home can provide, we can provide them with an opportunity at Sunmount that is equipped to provide high-need transitional care for those who need it. need additional support and assistance before they can thrive in a setting-based community.

In their letter to Hochul, state lawmakers said they recently heard of several cases where the OPWDD is moving people with intellectual disabilities in this situation to intensive care facilities like Sunmount.

Lawmakers told the Times Union newspaper that the state does not have enough centers for clients with high needs.

Lawmakers believe Sunmount is an “inappropriate” setting for these people.

“We understand that the facility is fenced, that there is a lack of 24/7 video monitors, and that they may lack the necessary level of clinical staff and direct care … that their child needs,” the lawmakers wrote.

Sunmount’s image

Parents quoted in the Times Union’s first article view Sunmount as a prison rather than a healthy center for their children.

Part of Sunmount’s population is made up of people with developmental disabilities who have been charged with a felony – from arson to assault – and have been found unfit to stand trial. The OPWDD declined to reveal what percentage of Sunmount’s population has been charged with a crime.

These residents often live at the Sunmount Intensive Care Center, a fenced area for people who pose higher risks to public safety.

Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun, who sits on Sunmount’s board of directors, said he felt Sunmount had received a “punch” in the Times Union article. He said the article did not mention the carpentry shop, auto shop or recreation centers inside and outside fenced areas, and felt it was derogatory to employees who had done nothing wrong.

“They deserve better than this,” he said.

He acknowledged that Sunmount is not the average center for people with developmental disabilities. The focus on those found unfit to stand trial means that residents who live there are sometimes more violent than at other OPWDD sites.

“You always have to be on your guard, for sure,” said Maroun.

Sunmount is one of two OPWDD facilities that offer residential care, as opposed to home or community care. The other facility is Valley Ridge in Norwich.

But that’s not Sunmount’s only goal.

“There are also several homes on Sunmount’s land that provide an opportunity for community living while providing the intensive support that the person needs,” OPWDD said in a statement. “Depending on the individual’s needs of the person… they would also have access to the community to ensure that they are integrated into the larger community. “

But a family in the Times Union article said they were told their son would be going to “the safest area” in Sunmount because he needs intensive care.

“I have no doubts, in my visits to Sunmount and the staff there, that they do a very good job of meeting the needs of the customers who are there and protecting them,” said Maroun.

Yet parents were terrified of what they saw and heard about Sunmount – fences, sexual predators, and an environment they didn’t believe was conducive to improving their child’s mental and physical health.

Maroun said sexual predators are a concern in any institutional setting, also mentioning hospitals and nursing homes.

Parents were also concerned about Sunmount’s isolation from the majority of the state’s population, which could make visitation difficult.

Cost reduction?

Lawmakers attributed the state’s return of foreign graduates to New York and the circumvention of parental rights to an attempt to save money or avoid sending it out of state.

“We understand that investments in some facilities are more profitable, but when these clients regress behaviorally, it can lead to permanent physical and psychological injury,” they wrote.

They said improper placement means that a person with a developmental disability is more likely to be drugged, injured or become violent and end up in the criminal justice system.

The OPWDD declined to say whether this was a cost saving measure.

“At one point, New York State taxpayers cannot send money out of state when we have facilities in the state that do a very good job with clients,” said Maroun.

The OPWDD says it is working with families to find the best paths for their children with developmental disabilities.

“OPWDD is committed to identifying the right services to meet each person’s needs and creating a person-centered plan to support them in New York after graduation from another state,” wrote the director of communications for OPWDD, Jennifer O’Sullivan, in a statement.

“OPWDD works closely with each student and their family to identify an appropriate placement in the state that will meet their specific needs to ensure that the student can return to NYS, their official place of residence, to receive services for appropriate adults by the time they finish. their studies (at the end of the school year in which the pupil turns 21).

The OPWDD says its process is legal. But in their letter, state lawmakers say they believe the actions may violate a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in which the court ruled that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to basic care. less restrictive possible and should be integrated into the community to avoid “unwarranted segregation.

In the meantime, Maroun said everyone is waiting to see what Hochul does.

About Charles D. Goolsby

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