ALBANY (AP) - The federal government is criticizing the Cuomo administration in a report for continuing to mishandle care for the developmentally disabled in a system with unexplained deaths and other problems.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report Tuesday concluded the state Commission on Quality Care, which is supposed to oversee the system, should operate independently from the governor's office. The problems have been the subject of a series of articles by The New York Times.
The department also questioned the agency's spending and said several requirements of federal law were broken. The commission is charged with uncovering abuse and neglect of patients and fraud in the use of billions of dollars in Medicaid.
The commission is supposed to be an independent watchdog over state agencies to ensure developmentally disabled and mentally ill patients are safe and properly cared for. But the federal review noted that the commission is operated as a state agency reporting to the governor's office, even for hiring decisions, creating a conflict with that independent role.
The watchdog commission was created decades ago as an agency under the governor. In most states, the commission's counterparts are independent nonprofit agencies.
Federal officials also criticized New York state's commission for its refusal to release records on how it spends federal money, which is required under law. The report also said the state can't show any "data-driven, strategic planning to establish goals," according to a Times report today.
Federal officials gave the Cuomo administration until Friday to respond with a plan for action.
"The administration is working very aggressively, although after years of neglect, it will take some time," said Cuomo spokesman Stephen Morello.
Personnel have been replaced, among other changes, and forums of "stakeholders" in the system, including advocates and operators, are planned, Morello said.
The commissioner of the federal Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Sharon B. Lewis, told the newspaper she is "confident that the state is taking appropriate action."
In recent articles, the Times found 10 percent of all deaths in the system were attributed to unknown causes, which the newspaper stated suggests widespread failure in determining how and why patients died.
The Times analyzed more than 1,200 people who died in the state's care over the past decade, finding one in six deaths in state and privately run facilities were attributed to unknown or other than natural causes.
"New York state continues to fail to protect innocent and extremely vulnerable children and adults with disabilities," said Michael Carey, whose autistic son, Jonathan, was killed while in the care of two developmental center aides in 2007.
"One main reason is that there is no real independent oversight," Michael Carey said in a statement today.
Last spring, Cuomo appointed Roger Bearden to lead the commission. Bearden is the former director of the Disability Law Center at New Yorkers for the Public Interest.
Bearden said the report provides "additional valuable guidance" to the state.