For The Daily Gazette
The Eastern New York Developmental Disabilities Advocates (ENYDDA), is an independent all-volunteer organization of hundreds of parents and families of developmentally disabled individuals in the greater Capital Region and eastern upstate New York.
Our mission is to educate and inform policy makers, the media and the public on issues impacting our disabled children and loved ones.
On May 6 the Sunday Gazette published an editorial supporting, among other things, the enactment by the state Legislature of a bill (S.4746B/A.6830A).
The bill would require that every actual or alleged incident of abuse or neglect of a person with a disability or special needs in the care of a facility or service provider be reported to a 911 operator and the county district attorney’s office.
It would also raise the penalty for the failure of any employee to make such reports from a misdemeanor to a Class E felony and would also subject both employees and volunteers to civil action.
Lastly, it would expand the current exceptions to the confidentiality protections for the private records of disabled persons in such cases to include mandatory access by local police and the District Attorney.
As parents and families of the disabled we commend the motivation and share the objectives behind both the legislation and The Gazette’s editorial support, and are grateful for the focus on an issue so close to our hearts.
However, this bill would have little or no impact on the current reporting or prevention of abuse and neglect and is virtually certain to create far more harm to those that it is trying to protect than it will ever prevent.
First, the bill is grossly over broad in requiring all reportable incidents, as defined in law, to be reported to 911 and law enforcement officials.
The law currently provides that such incidents that occur in the care of defined facility or service provider be investigated by the provider, reported to the Justice Center for investigation, and forwarded to law enforcement where appropriate.
Moreover, current regulation already provides, and workers are trained, that law enforcement be contacted immediately any time a crime may have been committed against a disabled individual by a custodian or when an emergency response is required.
We as parents know that the vast majority of these incidents are relatively minor, routine, accidental or simply false.
To make every one of them the subject of an emergency response call and a criminal investigation would be a gross overreaction.
It would waste the time and energy of our already overtaxed caregiver staff, needlessly disturb and inconvenience the disabled individuals themselves, and it would be a dangerous waste of critical emergency and law enforcement resources
Second, this bill discourages people from working in the field of caring for the disabled, at a time when thousands of capable, compassionate and desperately needed workers are already leaving the profession due to the combination of challenging work, low wages and the constant concern that the failure to make reports of every minor event could result in suspension, investigation, dismissal and, now, possible felony charges.
This bill would drive the existing workforce crisis to become even more dire.
Lastly, the broad additional exception in the bill to the current privacy protections afforded to the disabled on a wide range of medical, psychological, therapeutic and other personal information will often be an unnecessary, invasive, and discriminatory violation of their privacy.
Patrick J. Curran and Brad Pivar are members of the Steering Committee, Eastern NY Developmental Disability Advocates.