A group home for the disabled, run by the State of New York, in Rome, N.Y. is facing calls for a federal investigation after an explosive report was leaked by the Associated Press detailing a resident who, on two separate occasions, was so severely neglected that he became infested with maggots. The resident, Steven Wenger, has been unable to walk, speak or breathe without a ventilator since a tragic car accident 26 years ago. According to the AP, both infestations were found in and around Wenger’s ventilator.
New York State officials confirmed that the infestations had been caused by neglect. The officials also confirmed that the caregivers were not disciplined in any way, but that the state had “increased training.” In New York, which is responsible for providing care to over 1 million disabled people, the responsibility for neglect probes are overseen by the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs (“Justice Center”) who declined to provide any data or information about the particular case.
In fact, if the report had not been leaked to the Associated Press, it is unlikely the incident would have ever become public. New York has no disclosure requirements for state-regulated institutions caring for the disabled, addicted or mentally ill. The Justice Center only reports broad statistics – last year stating that it “substantiated” 4,169 cases of abuse or neglect in the state – declining to state which incidents were attributable to the state or the private sector.
Critics say that the Justice Center, formed in 2012 by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has been so resistant to supplying any meaningful information that it exists more for a political purpose, to either conceal broad problems by the state or protect the lavish federal funding it receives. In on example, it took disabled care advocates over eight months to receive a simple list of the numbers of deaths and sexual assaults by facility over a two-and-a-half year period. Because state lawmakers doubt the Justice Center’s ability to provide accurate information on the abuse of disabled persons (or otherwise provide any meaningful data that could be used to analyze the Justice Center’s performance in responding to these incidents), a growing chorus is asking the federal government to step in and have the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the care for disabled persons at state-run facilities.