New York State’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic Leaves Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) Behind

March 12, 2021

Coronavirus, Disability Justice, Education, News

Albany, NY, March 9, 2021 – New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), Disability Rights New York (DRNY), and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) jointly published New York State’s Response to Protect People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Group Homes During the COVID-19 Pandemic,which blasts the State for its failure to safeguard the rights of individuals with intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).

The report, issued on March 9, 2021, details the investigation of New York State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in group homes certified by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The investigation confirmed that individuals with I/DD in these congregate settings have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Ruth Lowenkron, Director of NYLPI’s Disability Justice Program, stated:  “With multiple studies concluding that people with disabilities are significantly more susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19, it is unconscionable that the State has not done more for its most vulnerable citizens in group homes. At the bare minimum, people with disabilities who are entrusted in the care of the State have the right to personal protective equipment (PPE), COVID testing, and appropriate quarantining conditions.

“New York State has not been transparent about how this crisis has impacted people with I/DD, consistently withholding from the public information about COVID-19 infections and deaths amongst individuals residing in group homes and the staff who support them. This deprives families, policymakers, provider agencies, and the scientific community of data essential to reduce exposure, contain outbreaks, and prevent deaths,” said Tim Clune, Executive Director, DRNY.

“Group homes have been under-funded and under-staffed for years, then the coronavirus hit. The state’s historic failure to support and serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities has long been a crisis, but inaction during the pandemic worsened conditions and created a tragedy. Group homes are prime locations for the spread of the coronavirus, and New York State failed to prioritize the health and safety needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. People with I/DD have experienced disproportionate and unnecessary death and infection rates, and have continued to do so as the pandemic surged again,” noted Beth Haroules, Senior Staff Attorney, NYCLU.

On December 18, 2020, NYLPI, DRNY, and NYCLU provided a draft of the Report to Governor Cuomo, OPWDD, and the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH). The February 1, 2021 response from OPWDD and NYSDOH does not set forth information that changes the findings of the Report.

The Report’s recommendations for clear guidance, transparency, prioritization for PPE, financial support, and robust testing and staffing protocols are critical to improving service delivery and infection management during this and any future pandemic.

Read the full report here.

For further information, contact:  Hillary Wasserman at [email protected] or 732-778-1896.

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