Health Association in New York State, Inc.
Friday Fax from Albany
SEEN THE NEW TIMOTHY’S LAW TV SPOT?
You can view it at WWW.TIMOTHYSLAW.ORG
This week we are highlighting several events related to suicide prevention.
On May 20th, Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center held their 7th annual candlelight vigil. Over 150 people were in attendance at this event remembering those lost to suicide (details follow in the attached article as well as the press release).
On May 21st, the New York State Office of Mental Health released their first volume of the comprehensive report on suicide prevention (press release is attached).
With almost 1500 people a year dying by suicide in New York (many of them adolescents), we strongly support the work of Mary Jean Coleman and Samaritans and the leadership of the Office of Mental Health and Dr. Sharon Carpinello in raising the public awareness of this important issue.
An important component of the public awareness of suicide prevention is providing information about the national suicide prevention phone number which has been established through our colleagues at the MHA in New York City in conjunction with SAMSHA. This phone number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you can find more information at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. We urge you to share this number with members of the community.
SUMMARY OF THIS WEEK’S NEWS
In other updates this week, a bi-partisan committee of Senators and Assembly members introduced the Comprehensive Geriatric Mental Health Act. According to Michael Friedman, the chairman of the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York, over the next 25 years, the number of older adults with mental illness will double from 7 million to 14 millions. Through the leadership of the Legislature and Michael, over 80 non profit and service advocacy organizations have signed on to support the Act. MHANYS has been very supportive and we will continue to work with these organizations to ensure passage of this bill (press release is attached).
New York Assembly Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Chair, Peter Rivera announced that there will be two statewide public hearings on the mental hygiene task force report. The hearing will take place on June 3rd in Syracuse and June 17th in New York City (press release is attached)
The New York State Office of Mental Health, also this week, announced their public briefings and hearings on the 2005—2009 Comprehensive Plan for Mental Health Services. Copies of meeting dates are listed with the press release
OMH has also release information regarding PROS Draft Registration Material. This is designed to prevent duplicate payments for providers. According to OMH, the reason for the new registration process is because of concerns raised by providers regarding liability for retroactive recoveries. You can get more information by logging on to http://www.omh.state.ny.us/omhweb/pros/registration.htm
We think this is positive but we have voiced are concerns regarding the PROS Registration Form and the importance of the roles of peer educators and collaterals in providing information before a recipient signs a PROS registration form. No one should be signing a PROS Registration form before being fully informed in a non-biased fashion about the PROS Program in their area.
IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK are articles about the walk for Timothy’s Law in Watertown. Great work from our friends at the Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, MHA in Jefferson County and the Lewis County Community Services.
Also, in the news is the story about the sordid history of Brooklyn Manor Adult Home. We are pleased to see the Department of Health taking aggressive action to take control of Brooklyn Manor. Restoration of the quality of life for the residents of the home must be the top priority.
SAMARITANS SUICIDE PREVENTION CENTER 7TH ANNUAL CANDLELIGHT VIGIL: As in previous years, the 2005 Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center Hope Candlelight Vigil, proved to be as emotional and spiritually moving as any previous events. This year’s event drew 150+ people to the steps of the NYS Capitol to remember those lost to suicide and to help raise awareness for the prevention of suicide.
The Samaritans Lifekeeper Awards, given to NYS Assemblymember Paul Tonko and Albany County Legislator E. Nancy Wiley last year, were awarded to NYS Office of Mental Health Commissioner Sharon Carpinello and Albany County Department of Mental Health Associate Director of Clinical Operations Bill Dickson for their outstanding efforts toward the prevention of suicide.
Perhaps the most moving portion of the evening was Commissioner Carpinello’s acceptance of the Lifekeeper Award. Commissioner Carpinello explained that her dedication toward the prevention of suicide comes from within, as a family member of someone who completed suicide.
Following is the Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center’s press release, detailing the evening’s events.
Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center Hope Candlelight Vigil Remembers Those Lost to, and Those Dedicated to the Prevention of, Suicide
2005 LifeKeeper Memory Awards to be presented to Sharon Carpinello, Commissioner of the NYS Office of Mental Health and Bill Dickson, Associate Director of Clinical Operations for the Albany County Department of Mental Health
On Thursday evening, Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center held its 7th Annual Hope Candlelight Vigil on the steps of the NYS Capitol. Family members and friends of those lost to suicide came together to remember those lives tragically lost and to share experiences, gain courage, and strengthen their commitment toward the prevention of suicide.
In the 20 years since Samaritans began operations in 1985, the organization has grown into a complete resource on suicide, operating a confidential suicide prevention/crisis hotline service to residents of New York’s Capital Region, providing group support for survivors of a loved one’s suicide, educational outreach programs, and postvention services to schools and communities after a suicide has occurred.
“With Samaritans serving 8,000 – 10,000 people each year, this event has grown tremendously over the past several years to include hundreds of people affected by suicide and is now one of our most treasured community events,” said Mary Jean Coleman, Samaritans’ Executive Director. “Nearly 1,500 people die from suicide each year in New York. Their faces, pictured on our LifeKeeper Memory Quilts, here with us today, continue to drive our work in the prevention of suicide.”
As part of this year’s Vigil, Samaritans arranged for one of the three Bells of Remembrance, cast in honor of those lost in the attacks on September 11th, 2001, to be present at the Vigil. At the first anniversary memorial of September 11th, the bell was rung, in 10-second intervals, in remembrance of each person who perished in the attacks on our country that day. On Thursday evening, the bell was rung, in 18-minute intervals, marking the suicide of yet another US resident every 18 minutes.
After remembering those lost to suicide, much of the event’s focus shifted to the prevention of suicide. Recognizing their outstanding work with Samaritans toward suicide prevention, NYS Office of Mental Health Commissioner Sharon Carpinello and Albany County Department of Mental Health Associate Director of Clinical Operations Bill Dickson were awarded Samaritans 2005 LifeKeeper Memory Awards.
In leading the NYS Office of Mental Health to create Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness Kits (SPEAK), Commissioner Carpinello has taken New York State to the forefront of the national suicide prevention movement. SPEAK provides information to the public, health care providers and educators in the effort to comprehend the devastating impact and frequency of suicide. SPEAK also works to help familiarize people with the warning signs of someone contemplating suicide and assists in finding ways in which people can help others who may be considering suicide.
In his role as an Associate Director for the Albany County Department of Mental Health, Bill Dickson provides oversight for clinical programs and plays a liaison role to all other mental health providers in Albany County. As an original member of the Department’s Mobile Crisis Team, he responded to those in our community experiencing psychiatric emergencies such as suicidal ideation. Associate Director Dickson has presented and trained numerous organizations of family members, law enforcement personnel, human services providers and mental health providers on the issue of suicide and remains strongly committed to the prevention of suicide in our community.
OMH RELEASES SAVING LIVES IN NEW YORK: SUICIDE PREVENTION AND PUBLIC HEALTH – VOLUME 1, CHALLENGE, STRATEGY AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: On Friday, NYS Office of Mental Health Released the first volume in what will eventually be a comprehensive report on suicide prevention. Rolling out this first phase at a conference in Albany, MHANYS and other organizations were present to participate in what will likely be a complete overhaul of the manner in which New York State attempts to prevent suicide in the future. Following below is OMH’s press release.
OMH RELEASES COMPREHENSIVE REPORT ON SUICIDE PREVENTION
Report Calls For Public Health Approach,
Suicide is a significant public health problem that is little recognized and often misunderstood, according to Saving Lives In New York: Suicide Prevention and Public Health, a comprehensive, data-driven report on suicide, its risks and prevention, released today by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH).
Prepared by researchers at OMH, Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute, the University of Rochester and the New York State Suicide Prevention Council, the report outlines a prevention strategy with two primary components: diagnose and effectively treat those who have a psychiatric condition that puts them at high risk to end their own life; and use community resources, family and friends to engage individuals who harbor risk factors for suicide well before they become a danger to themselves. The report includes 33 recommendations and 88 actions steps that are designed to: improve access to mental health care and services; enhance identification of those at risk; restrict access to means of self-harm; and expand the knowledge base through research.
Sharon E. Carpinello, RN, PhD, OMH Commissioner said, "Under Governor Pataki's leadership, OMH has made great progress in raising public awareness about suicide risks and warning signs through its suicide prevention, education and awareness, or SPEAK, campaign. The Saving Lives report released today builds on that progress, but identifying what needs to be done from a statewide perspective is just the beginning. Suicide is more than a profound personal tragedy for the victim, family, friends and loved ones, it is also a major public health challenge. Taking a public health approach is pivotal to the report's prevention strategy. Building capacity for community-based prevention across New York is a critical next step, and the promotion of wellness and healthy behaviors is an approach that will help us to reach the goal of saving lives."
There are three volumes that together comprise the full Saving Lives report: Volume One looks at the challenge of suicide prevention, strategy and policy recommendations; Volume Two looks at approaches to suicide prevention and special populations; and Volume Three is a data book of Statewide and county-specific information and statistics. All three volumes of the report will soon be available at www.omh.state.ny.us.
Eric Caine, MD, John Romano Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Co-Director, Center for Study and Prevention of Suicide, said, "This is a major step in promoting suicide prevention in New York State, moving from public discussion to widely promoting a plan that provides a compelling vision and can be used to mark our progress and hold us all accountable."
Madelyn Gould, PhD, MPH, Professor in Psychiatry & Public Health, Columbia University and Research Scientist, NYS Psychiatric Institute, said, "Over 150,000 teenagers in New York State attempt suicide each year, and approximately 70 die by suicide. Recognition of this public health problem spurred the successful collaboration of the New York State Suicide Prevention Council, NYS Office of Mental Health, NYS Psychiatric Institute, Rochester University Center of Study and Prevention of Suicide and advocacy groups across NYS to produce the Saving Lives report. Working together we have produced a set of action steps to combat the tragedy of suicide in NYS youth."
Mary Jean Coleman, MSW, Executive Director, Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center and President, Samaritans USA, said, "The shaping of the Saving Lives report has been a journey of unwavering persistence and commitment. Through a steadfast public-private partnership, leaders in suicide prevention efforts have walked together through the vision of its creation. I am proud to have made the journey - in loving memory of my brother, Eddie, and in profound hope for the future."
According to the report, risk factors contributing to suicide are unevenly distributed across the population, and protective factors need to be enhanced to maintain a favorable balance for anyone at risk of suicide. A public health approach calls for an integrated prevention strategy because most suicides involve complex causes, and no single intervention can serve as a panacea for all those at risk.
"This report is both sobering and hopeful," said Commissioner Carpinello. "It is sobering because the scope of suicide is larger and more complex than most people realize. At the same time, it is hopeful because there are demonstrated best practices -- screening tools, diagnostic tests, medications, therapies, direct services and self help -- that if widely accepted and properly implemented, can reduce the number of deaths."
The release of the Saving Lives report builds upon OMH's SPEAK campaign, launched in May 2004 to help New Yorkers become aware of the risks and warning signs of suicide. SPEAK is designed to give New Yorkers the information they need in order to know when, where and how to speak up and seek help for oneself or others.
OMH is now actively working to increase public awareness and understanding of the nature and impact of mental illness, effective treatments and services, useful preventive and coping strategies, and how to get help when needed.
In 2002, OMH established a collaborative relationship with the New York State Suicide Prevention Council, and the Saving Lives report is a result of that collaboration. Individuals who contributed to the Saving Lives report include:
COMPREHENSIVE GERIATRIC MENTAL HEALTH ACT MAKING HEADWAY: Press release follows below on bill’s progress.
Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers and Advocates Unveil Landmark Legislation that Addresses the Growing Mental Health Needs of Senior Citizens
Senators Spano, Morahan and Golden will join Assemblymembers Rivera and Englebright to highlight legislation that will help care for tens of thousands of older New Yorkers as an explosion of baby boomers is expected to impact the State
ALBANY, NY – (05/24/05) – Citing a long list of data documenting the growing mental health needs of older New Yorkers and illustrating the projected explosion of aging baby boomers in the State, key lawmakers, mental health advocates and representatives of senior citizen groups today unveiled landmark legislation that will focus the Empire State’s attention on an issue with major social and economic impact.
The Geriatric Mental Health Act (A.4742/S.7672 - GMHA) will position New York as the nation's first state to begin to comprehensively address the mental health needs of the dramatically increasing number of older Americans. This legislation, supported by over 80 nonprofit sector advocacy and service organizations, outlines the detailed steps New York must begin to take in order to assure that it will be ready to handle major demographic changes that will challenge its elder care and mental health systems.
"The elder boom is beginning. Over the next 25 years the number of older adults with mental disorders in the United States will double from 7 million to 14 million. We must prepare now to meet this rapidly growing need," said Michael Friedman chairman of the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York, an advocacy group with over 600 individual and organizational members. He added, "We are grateful for the vision and leadership provided by the Senators and Assemblypersons, Democrats and Republicans who have joined together to sponsor this legislation, which not only will benefit older New Yorkers but will also establish a model for the nation."
"I am proud to support this important legislation that takes critical first steps in ensuring that New York begins to address the problems of older New Yorkers with mental illness. Older adults with mental illness are a diverse population who are seriously under-served within the mental health system of the state and as the population grows older, so will the need for comprehensive geriatric mental health services," declared Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Suffolk), Chairman of the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging. "This legislation sets in motion planning guidelines, encourages cooperation among state agencies, studies the effectiveness of current programs and services and establishes demonstration programs designed to provide better interventions and better outcomes for our older New Yorkers with mental illness."
Senator Nicholas A. Spano, (R-C-I-WF- Yonkers), assistant majority leader for Conference Operations, and Senate sponsor of the GMHA, stated, "A state wide geriatric mental health policy just makes sense for our ever growing mental health population. Existing services, workforce, governmental infrastructure, and state planning are inadequate to meet the special needs of this key group."
According to Senator Thomas P. Morahan (R-C, New City), chairman of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, "This is vital legislation for older adults with mental disorders, who may become increasingly under-served based on the latest US Census figures. In fact, on a personal level, census statistics show that my Senate district, which includes Rockland County has the fastest growing population 65 and older in the entire state, having more than doubled in three decades. I, therefore, urge passage of this critical legislation so that we are able to meet the mental health challenges of the elder boom."
"It has long been said that those that fail to plan are planning to fail. The Geriatric Mental Health Act engages New York in a planning process that will help us begin to better prepare to address the growing mental health needs of our ever-growing elder population," stated Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera (D-Bronx), Assembly sponsor of the GMHA and chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
Senator Martin G. Golden (R-Kings), chairman of the New York State Senate Committee on Aging added, "This is the most comprehensive and significant reform of mental health programs and services for the elderly in the history of the State, and I compliment the sponsor and all those who worked so hard to develop this and bring it to the attention of people. The bill takes its bearings from the warnings issued by many people, including the State Office of the Aging, and my committee, about the baby boomer wave that will hit this State in a decade. It is imperative that we plan for the intense need for services that will hit then, and plan more rigorously for special populations"
The mental health system, which currently does not serve most older adults with mental illnesses, is in no way ready for the elder boom, which will hit in full force beginning in 2011. There has been little preparation by New York despite more than a decade of warnings. The big hit will come outside the ordinary five-year planning horizon used by government bureaucrats. Because the boom will be so large and will require such extensive restructuring, preparation cannot responsibly be put off any longer.
"The New York State-Wide Senior Action Council, strongly supports the efforts of Assemblymembers Rivera and Englebright and Senators Spano, Morahan and Golden to begin to address a very neglected area in New York State - Geriatric Mental Health", said Michael Burgess, executive director of the New York State-Wide Senior Action Council. "The growth of the population in the coming decades makes it incumbent upon our State to better plan and to better serve older adults with mental illness. This legislation provides the spark for this to happen."
According to mental health advocates, older adults with mental disorders are currently under-served and will become increasingly under-served as there is a rapid increase in the number of older adults in New York State. Existing services, workforce, governmental infrastructure, and state planning are inadequate to meet the special needs of this group.
According to Bobbie Sackman, director of Public Policy, Council of Senior Centers and Services, "Senior centers throughout NYC have identified the unmet mental health needs of seniors as a top priority. We applaud Assembly and Senate leaders for introducing the Comprehensive Geriatric Mental Health Act. Building a network of community-based mental health services that are easily accessible and geared for the elderly would be a tremendous step towards addressing the growing mental health needs of older New Yorkers."
"We are very happy to support this important legislation that will lay the groundwork for the state to develop new and integrated approaches to serving older adults with mental illness," said Karen Schimke, president and CEO of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy (SCAA). "We need to plan now for better coordinated care in the area of geriatric mental health because currently, older New Yorkers are under-served and their numbers will grow immensely over the next two decades."
Currently, there are an estimated 2-3 million American seniors with depression and only 20% of them are getting treatment from mental health professionals. Untreated mental conditions can lead to disability or even premature death, exacerbate symptoms of other illnesses, and result in suicide. The suicide rate among elderly men is the highest among all age groups. The elderly are twice as likely to commit suicide as teenagers.
"American Association of Retired Persons commends the leadership of Assemblyman Peter Rivera, Assemblyman Steven Englebright, Senator Nicholas Spano and Senator Thomas Morahan for introducing legislation to closely examine the needs of New York’s elderly with mental illness," said Lois Aronstein, AARP’s New York State Director. "It is imperative that we assure that all older adults have the services they need to live their lives with independence and choice."
Government projections indicate that from 2000 to 2030 the population 65 or over in the United States will grow from 35 million to 70 million and from roughly 13% of Americans to 20%. And according to mental health experts, based on current illness prevalence estimates, from 2000 to 2030 the number of older adults with mental illnesses will grow from approximately 7 million to approximately 14 million, hundreds of thousands of these senior citizens will be living in New York State.
NYS ASSEMBLY TO HOLD PUBLIC HEARINGS ON MENTAL HYGIENE TASK FORCE REPORT: NYS Assembly Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Chair Peter Rivera has announced that he will hold two public hearings on the Mental Hygiene Task Force Report in which MHANYS and many other organizations and individuals participated in formulating. The Mental Hygiene Task Force report can be viewed at http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/comm/Mental/20050303/.
two hearings will take place in:
Use the links above to access the public hearing reply forms for each hearing, or you may contact Jennifer Best, Committee Assistant to the Assembly Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities at email@example.com or (518) 455-4371.
The Mental Hygiene Task Force report’s executive summary follows below.
In February 2001, the New York State Assembly Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities initiated a comprehensive review of the status of the mental health service delivery system. It was apparent that the mental health system was not designed to allow for the recovery of persons with mental illnesses. On October 31, 2002 the Committee issued a report entitled, Broken Promises, Broken Lives: A Report on the Status of the Mental Health Delivery System in New York State. The report concluded that the current system of service delivery was not meeting the needs of the citizens of the State. As a result, thousands of mentally ill persons have suffered indignities and abuse, and hundreds of others have succumbed to untimely deaths due to a dysfunctional mental health system.
In response to the issues identified in the Committee’s 2002 report, the Committee formed a Mental Hygiene Task Force in November 2003 to make recommendations on restructuring the mental hygiene service delivery system. The Task Force was comprised of over fifty members representing consumers, families, advocates, service providers, unions and local government officials. The Task Force determined there was a need to expand on the initial recommendations of the 2002 Committee report.
Four committees were formed to respond to various issues:
The Committee on Intergovernmental and Strategic Planning focused on the structural issues of the mental hygiene system that hindered the development and implementation of a comprehensive system of services. The Committee on Continuum of Services focused on the service delivery constructs that need to be addressed in order to better serve the needs of the mentally disabled in a consumer and family centered system. The Committee on Underserved Populations focused on identifying those populations of the State that are in need of both service and care, their respective unmet needs, and the service barriers that hinder development and provision of appropriate services to these populations. The Committee on Resources focused on the availability and constructs of resources, public and private, which impact on the service delivery systems for the mentally disabled, and how to better utilize such resources.
These Committees of the Task Force met regularly during 2004, developing recommendations and action steps to restructure the mental hygiene service delivery system to better meet the needs of the mentally disabled. The Committees identified a number of themes, based on their differing perspectives, which have guided the development of this report.
Each Committee of the Mental Hygiene Task Force made several recommendations to restructure and improve the mental hygiene system in New York State. This interim report is intended to guide the public discourse that will lead to an effective, efficient consumer and family focused system of service delivery. The Assembly Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities will hold a series of public hearings across the State to obtain public input regarding the recommendations contained herein and will issue a final report with legislative proposals in the fall of 2005.
of Informational Briefings and Public Hearings on the
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psychiatric centers which are accessible to patients.
Should there by any special accommodations (e.g., interpreters) needed, please let the Field Office contact person (listed above) know in advance.
IN THE NEWS:
plan long walk today to raise awareness about mental health. By Norah
Watertown Daily Times, May 12, 2005
Several nonprofit agencies have joined together to sponsor a 30-mile walk today to increase awareness of the problems faced by those with mental illness.
The Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County and Lewis County Community Services have organized the trek between Watertown and Lowville "to get the message out that people with mental illness can persevere," said Elizabeth Patience, NRCIL statewide systems advocate.
Approximately 20 people have signed up to participate in the walk, although additional people may show up later in the day, she said. The agencies will have vans along the route to transport walkers who can only complete a portion of the walk, she said.
"We're not asking everyone to walk the entire 30 miles, unless they want to do that," said Ms. Patience.
The event will "kick-off" at 7 a.m. today at the Dulles State Office Building and a closing ceremony will be at 7 p.m. at the Veterans Park, Lowville.
Participants will walk from Watertown on Route 12, and then take a detour at Copenhagen along Roberts Road to Route 26 and then on to Lowville to complete the walk because of road construction on Route 12, Ms. Patience said.
The walk is one of many being held throughout the state to observe Mental Health Awareness Month, Ms. Patience said.
"We want to raise awareness about the discrimination and the stigma that people with mental health disabilities go through on daily basis," she said. "This includes health insurance and housing discrimination."
There are "these huge myths that people with mental health disabilities can't recover, can't be an active part of the community and can't make decisions for themselves," she said. "But that's just not true."
The walk is open to the public and anyone interested can join in the trek, she said.
Also today, the Families Together in the North Country, a NRCIL program, will sponsor presentations at 12:30 and 3 p.m. at Jefferson Community College's Amphitheater on the topic "What Happy Faces Are Hiding: Talking About Depression."
The speaker will be Ross Szabo, director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign, who has appeared in Parade and Seventeen magazines, and on PBS, C-SPAN, CNN and CBS. The cost is $5 per person, but the event is free for high school and college students.
a Home for the Mentally Ill, the Problems Are Legion but the Solutions
Are Not. By Marc Santora
The New York Times, May 15, 2005
At the Brooklyn Manor Adult Home, state investigators have found violations from financial malfeasance to grossly inaccurate medical evaluations of very sick people.
For more than a decade, state investigators have been aware of a troubling and dangerous state of affairs at the Brooklyn Manor Adult Home, a place meant to offer refuge to mentally ill people not wanted by anyone else.
In a series of reports, most recently a 200-page catalog of abuses, investigators found violations in every imaginable category - from financial malfeasance to grossly inaccurate medical evaluations of the people, often very sick, who are living there. From Jan. 8 to June 22, 2004, inspectors from the New York State Department of Health, which is charged with overseeing the several dozen such homes in the city, visited Brooklyn Manor 39 times to respond to complaints and concerns.
Still, Brooklyn Manor remains open. For the residents of the home, which has 216 beds, life there is as it ever was - isolated, grim, and unimproved by action by the state.
It was, then, business as usual last Sunday when a 51-year-old man burned to death in his bed after setting the mattress on fire with a cigarette, with some residents left walking the nearby streets dazed and complaining of how haphazard the resulting evacuation had been. The fire may have been accidental, but the death of the man, Charles Dunbar, gave rise to yet one more appreciation of how little has changed at the home, according to residents, lawyers who work with them and the state's own investigative reports.
Despite attempts by the state to revoke its license, despite a temporary ban on referring new residents to the home, and despite the current battle by state officials to have the administrator fired, the home is still full of the ill and the defenseless.
"It is hard for me to understand what has happened," said Tanya Kessler, a community organizer with the Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled. "Certainly the state last year responded to a lot of complaints from residents and was out at the home a lot," she said. "The question now is why has it failed to take the next step?"
That failure, interviews and records show, is a result of a mixture of legal wrangling, bureaucratic infighting and historical indifference. The state, which is charged with monitoring adult homes like Brooklyn Manor, has been conflicted in its own response. On the one hand, investigators have been aggressive in finding out about problems and diligent in reporting them. On the other, lawyers and others who work with the residents say state officials have not always been aggressive in acting on the findings.
William C. Van Slyke, a spokesman for the State Health Department, said that any inaction was the result of things beyond its control, including court decisions and the limited authority granted to the department by the State Legislature. "Our posture here is as aggressive as it can be given the loopholes that exist in the statutory authority," he said.
He said the Health Department has much more power in its oversight of nursing homes and hospitals, for instance, than it does when it comes to adult homes. "We continue to have serious concerns about this facility," he said.
The list of abuses compiled by state investigators is long. When patients were sick or injured, staff members failed to get them urgent medical care. When a doctor was made available, exams lasted only two or three minutes. Sometimes residents were taken into the home when they should have been sent elsewhere because of the severity of their illnesses, while at other times residents were discharged without due notice or explanation, including some who were barely capable of caring for themselves.
As early as 1991, state investigators found problems at Brooklyn Manor, uncovering evidence that the operator of the home, Benito Fernandez, then the husband of State Senator Nellie Santiago, took more than $45,000 in retirement benefits from a resident who had entrusted the money to the home. Over the ensuing years, more reports by state investigators found that not only was money being misappropriated, but that the level of supervision and coordination of care was abysmal.
As far back as 1996, there was a push to have the home's license revoked. However, senior officials in the State Department of Social Services, which oversaw the homes until 1998, reversed the effort without explanation.
Throughout, the administrators of the home and their lawyers have defended their record, and characterized the investigations as flawed.
Brooklyn Manor, anyway, has been able to fend off the state's efforts, which were energized after a series of articles in The New York Times in 2002 that documented the overall condition of the largest adult homes. At the time, the State Health Department made a full push to have the home's license revoked. But the effort was derailed in court.
On Dec. 6, 2004, a judge ruled that the inspection reports compiled over more than a decade were invalid because they only documented problems and did not offer remedies.
The ruling also provided the basis for a successful fight by Brooklyn Manor to be removed from the state's "Do Not Refer" list - intended to warn nursing homes, hospitals and other care facilities against sending people to Brooklyn Manor.
The state was frustrated by the ruling, which has made it harder to enforce actions against the most dangerous homes.
The state should not have been surprised. A year earlier, a court had made a similar ruling after an effort to revoke the license of an adult home. Presumably, the state had had months to make its reports meet the court's standards.
Mr. Van Slyke said the department had tried to adjust its inspection reports to account for the decision and said the judge's ruling was akin to a court invalidating a traffic ticket because the driver was not told that he could have stopped speeding by taking his foot off the accelerator.
Mr. Van Slyke said the state opted not to try to take control of the home itself, and is still seeking to have the administrator who runs the home on a daily basis removed.
But the most drastic action, closing the home, is not really an option: there is virtually nowhere else for the residents to go.
After the state began closing its psychiatric wards in the 1960's, adult homes were used for some of those who were deemed too ill to live on their own but not sick enough for hospitalization. Although Gov. George E. Pataki's administration created a panel to study alternative housing options, adult homes remain the easiest solution for vast numbers of the vulnerable population they serve. There are some 15,000 mentally ill people living in more than 100 homes in the state.
The panel studied the feasibility of creating smaller, more specialized homes for some residents of adult homes in 2003. State health officials said they had surveyed some 2,500 residents and helped many receive better care, but, to date, too few facilities have been built.
York Takes Control of Adult Home.
By Marc Santora
The New York Times, May 24, 2005
New York State officials seized control of the Brooklyn Manor adult home yesterday, saying that the mentally ill residents who live there were in imminent danger because of abuses on the part of the management.
The move came less than a month after a fire in the home left one resident dead and raised renewed concern about the overall management of Brooklyn Manor, which is meant to offer a refuge for mentally ill people who have no other place to go.
The residents of the 216-bed home, at 2830 Pitkin Avenue in East New York, are among the city's most vulnerable, suffering from disorders ranging from drug and alcohol addiction to severe mental illness. State inspectors have documented abuses at the home since the early 1990's.
The Fire Department joined the New York State Department of Health, which oversees the home, in the latest investigation, which found that there was no effective evacuation plan. Inspectors found that 17 residents who needed assistance, including amputees, were not helped by the staff. A deaf man was left in his room and given no warning during the fire, and staff members fled the building before many residents did, according to inspectors.
"Based on what we have learned from our investigation and from F.D.N.Y.'s findings, it is unimaginable to think what would have happened had this fire occurred during the night instead of during a daytime meal when most residents were on the main floor," said Dr. Antonia C. Novello, the state health commissioner.
The state does not plan to shut the home down, in part because it is so hard to find replacement homes willing to take residents.
"These patients have nowhere else and they consider this their home," Dr. Novello said, "and we are not going to do anything to jeopardize that."
Instead, the state has taken control of Brooklyn Manor, replacing the current operator and bringing in an administrator from the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens to run the home.
It ordered the immediate suspension of Brooklyn Manor's operating certificate and barred the home's current owner from entering the premises. All new admissions have been suspended.
The state also froze the home's bank accounts and will turn over those funds to the temporary operator.
Jeffrey J. Sherrin, a lawyer who represents Brooklyn Manor and other adult homes, said the state's action was out of line. "They tried and got it done secretly because they knew they can't do it in open court," he said.
Mr. Sherrin was fielding calls yesterday from staff members at Brooklyn Manor, who became aware of the action about 6 p.m. when the police showed up to escort health workers into the home.
"This is not how the State of New York is supposed to operate," Mr. Sherrin said, adding that the move would be challenged in court.
If the state is successful, it could end a saga that has dragged on for more than decade. As early as 1991, state investigators uncovered evidence that the operator of the home, Benito Fernandez, then the husband of State Senator Nellie Santiago, took more than $45,000 in retirement benefits from a resident who had entrusted the money to the home.
Over the years, investigations detailed more abuses: medical evaluations were improperly conducted, and residents were allowed into the home when they should have been sent elsewhere because of the severity of their illness. Over a six-month period in 2004, state health workers went to the home 39 times to respond to complaints.
The health department had been stymied from taking action by legal challenges. But Dr. Novello said the fire was the last straw.
On May 8, Charles Dunbar, 51, burned to death after setting his room ablaze with a cigarette. While the fire was ruled accidental, an investigation found many problems in the response of staff members.
In addition to the inadequate evacuation effort, inspectors found that fire extinguishers in the building had not been checked since 2004, and that those in the kitchen had not been inspected since 2003. The sprinkler system had not been checked in the last 12 months. They also found that a staff member shut off the alarm almost immediately after it started ringing.
Mr. Sherrin said he had not seen the details of the investigation but was confident that none of the allegations were true. He made available a letter he had sent to the department about the success of a fire drill conducted at Brooklyn Manor on May 16, after the deadly fire.
Despite the critical findings, Dr. Novello could not be sure the state would be successful after court challenges. "That is the $64,000 question," she said.
next time, we remain,
Working to ensure available and accessible
mental health services for all New Yorkers