New York has failed to provide protective equipment, testing and staff assistance for group homes serving residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, executives said from those homes and family members to lawmakers at a legislative hearing Thursday.
Staffing levels in New York’s system supporting people with disabilities have declined since the COVID-19 pandemic, which advocates say threatens the quality of care for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers faced calls on Thursday to increase wages for group home workers, demand routine COVID-19 testing and ensure people with disabilities are a priority in response plans.
One of the concerns of advocates is that group homes, unlike nursing homes, are not required to regularly test staff for COVID-19 or run rounds of tests after a resident or member of the hospital. staff have tested positive.
“It is very disturbing that people in group homes do not have the same protection as people in nursing homes and other places of assembly,” said Julie Keegan, director of Disability Rights New York. “People in group homes often have higher rates of co-morbidities that put them at a higher risk of death. There is no rational basis for this discriminatory practice.”
According to the agency’s latest data, at least 577 people have died from confirmed COVID-19 infection in group residences supervised by the state office for people with developmental disabilities. This tally does not include the number of residents who died in hospitals, nor the deaths of residents who may have died from COVID-19.
About 7,100 of the approximately 40,000 people who live in OPWDD residences have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 11,700 staff.
Residents of group homes in New York City have experienced higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death than other New Yorkers, according to Marco Damiani, general manager of AHRC New York City, a non-profit organization. nonprofit supporting children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“The infection rate was five times the rate in New York City, hospitalizations were three times the rate and the death rate was double the rate in New York City,” Damiani said during the Thursday hearing.
Low staffing levels and heavy use of overtime have long plagued New York’s group homes: OPWDD’s workforce has shrunk by 15% – or 4,500 employees – in recent years, according to Randi DiAntonio, vice president of the NYS Public Employees Federation.
OPWDD workers were due to report to work last spring even though they had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Joshua Terry, legislative director of CSEA Local 100.
“We were so stretched that even getting this virus wouldn’t let them miss work, if they were healthy any other way,” Terry said. “We had members that had to float in clusters from house to house, which probably spread the disease to different houses among staff and residents. “
Yvette Watts, executive director of the New York Association of Emerging & Multicultural Providers, said there was always a “very high” rate of reluctance to get vaccinated among staff in group homes, especially in communities. black and brown.
Watts said low wages don’t help.
“A lot of them think, and they said to me, ‘Why should I trust someone to get me vaccinated when they can’t even compensate me or understand that what I’m doing is important. ?
Meanwhile, group homes scrambled to buy expensive protective gear with no promise of money back, while arguing for everything from face masks to nurses to rapid tests.
In early 2020, State Health Commissioner Dr Howard Zucker repeatedly assured the public that New York City had sufficient stocks of medical supplies. At a Feb.6 meeting of the state’s public health and planning board, Zucker said New York could tap into “an incredible stock” and was “very well prepared for that response.”
But some group homes were told that they could not request protective gear from state stocks because their workplaces did not count as “essential” health care facilities, unlike hospitals. according to New York City disability rights lawyer Alyssa Galea.
“The developmental support and service system must be a priority in the same way that hospitals are a priority,” said Margaret Raustiala, board member of the State-Wide Family Advocacy Network of NYS whose old son Riko lives in a group home.