ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A New York lawmaker on Tuesday proposed requiring state institutions for the disabled to publish report cards on the number of cases of abuse and neglect after a disabled man was infested with maggots in a state group home last year.
Republican state Sen. Robert Ortt said that while consumers can easily access detailed online reviews about plumbers, electricians or even hospitals, New Yorkers often can’t obtain basic facts about past problems at a facility that serves a disabled loved one.
The Associated Press last month reported the story of Steven Wenger, a 41-year-old brain-damaged man who was infested with maggots last year at a state-operated group home in Rome. State officials determined the infestation was caused by days of neglect, but no employees were disciplined because officials say they couldn’t identify the staffers at fault.
Reports on the investigation were deemed confidential. While the state publishes reports on the total number of abuse and neglect cases statewide, details of investigations are almost never made public, even with the names blacked out. Officials defend the practice, saying they must comply with medical privacy laws.
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Ortt met Tuesday with Wenger’s father and officials from the Justice Center, the agency that investigated the maggot incident. Several other people with disabled loved ones also attended the meeting.
“Clearly there was a systemic failure in that home, by that organization,” said Ortt, of North Tonawanda. “If you’re a family that has to put your son or daughter in a group home, you should know if there’s been a finding of neglect or abuse. There’s no rationale for why someone would want to hide that.”
Ortt said the state should be able to create a report card on past incidents at facilities without violating privacy rules.
The Justice Center declined to weigh in on Ortt’s proposal Tuesday, but spokeswoman Christine Buttigieg said the agency welcomes discussions with lawmakers and the public.
“The Justice Center’s No. 1 priority is to protect the health and well-being of New York’s most vulnerable people,” Buttigieg said.
“We expect to continue our discussions with legislators and the public on ways to improve the services we provide,” she said.
Following the maggot case, the Justice Center suggested that the group home consider brushing up on training. Officials say that was done.
Walter Wenger, Steven Wenger’s father, said the relatives of patients who attended Tuesday’s meeting all reported “big-time issues” with the Justice Center or the other agencies providing care for the disabled. He said he hopes Tuesday’s meeting results in improvements in accountability and transparency. But he said he’s skeptical.
“When are we going to start doing things right?” he said.