New York’s latest inhumanity to disabled group-home residents amid COVID-19
Thousands of healthy, developmentally disabled New Yorkers are captive behind locked doors because of a bureaucratic regression, backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and hidden from public view by the COVID-19 crisis. The situation is sadly reminiscent of the horrors of Willowbrook State Hospital.
New York state is zooming to the new normal: tattoo parlors inking, beauty parlors snipping, nail salons clipping, bars slinging hooch. Meanwhile, developmentally disabled New Yorkers are being held prisoner in group homes because a state-licensing agency has adopted a “one size fits all” program. My son Dan, 32, is one of them.
The agency — the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities — ordered all group-home residents to be confined to quarters in late March as the COVID crisis began to unfold. They remain so today because the disabled are not a priority of the Cuomo administration.
Dan was an active guy: He played ice hockey with a special team, tilled the soil at an organic farm and toted hay bales — usually two at a time — at a horse stable.
Now his sole outdoor activity is a daily walk around the block in a leafy section of Long Island.
Dan and three of his roommates contracted the virus in late March. It was a tough two weeks — our only observation via FaceTime coordinated by dedicated and loving house staff. The guys recovered.
We asked that Dan be allowed some freedom with safety precautions (he wears a mask outside). OPWDD said no: Many group-home residents are at high risk due to medical conditions (Dan is physically quite healthy) or because they are aged (Dan is 32). One size fits all.
In the 1960s, institutionalization was the government’s response to developmental disability. Most thought nothing of it until Geraldo Rivera sneaked cameras into the Dickensian chamber.
The late Sen. Robert Kennedy said Willowbrook was caused by a state agency’s “lack of attention, lack of imagination.” Later Gov. Mario Cuomo said Willowbrook happened because “government was aloof, remote, not responsive.” Déjà vu all over again?