An audit by the New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has revealed that inadequate pandemic preparation, unclear guidance from the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), and staff shortages increased COVID risks for residents in group homes and similar facilities for people with developmental disabilities.
The audit focused on 657 COVID-related deaths in residential facilities before April 5, 2022, with updated OPWDD data indicating 707 resident deaths and 51 staff deaths as of March 2023.
Approximately 34,117 New Yorkers reside in OPWDD-supervised residential settings, with 83% living in nonprofit-operated facilities. The audit found that inconsistent emergency management coordination and oversight endangered residents, families, and staff. The comptroller urged OPWDD to take action before the next public health emergency. The report identified issues including inadequate distribution of COVID safety guidance, unchecked emergency plans, PPE shortages, and ineffective COVID surveys.
In response to the audit, advocacy groups are calling for better funding and support for direct service professionals, who currently earn just above minimum wage. The state sets DSP wages through Medicaid reimbursements to employing agencies, with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget plan proposing a 2.5% cost-of-living reimbursement increase for DSP salaries.
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