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Audit says state agencies failed group homes during pandemic

A recent report from the state Comptroller’s Office reveals that the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) failed to provide adequate guidance or oversight for residents in group homes and facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The audit was initiated following concerns raised by family members of those under the care of group homes in New York regarding a lack of oversight and infection control.

The report disclosed that the OPWDD did not ensure emergency protocols were followed in approximately 6,900 facilities. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli stated that even when inspections were conducted, they were limited in scope. The plans developed lacked staffing strategies, infection control measures, and appropriate PPE distribution, and only covered 1% of the nearly 34,100 New Yorkers residing in group homes.

The OPWDD has been slow to comply with the investigation, with DiNapoli saying it took months to obtain requested data. The department must now update its emergency management procedures and improve communication with health experts responsible for infection control policies.

DiSanto Propane (Billboard)

In response to the report, OPWDD officials submitted a 16-page rebuttal, challenging the audit’s methodology and arguing that their emergency protocols were designed for various public safety incidents and disasters, not just pandemics. From March 2020 to April 5, 2022, there have been 13,079 COVID-19 infections and 657 deaths reported in these facilities.

Advocates like Blaise Bryant of the New York Association on Independent Living stress the importance of better pay for home care workers and $15 million in funding for the long-term care ombudsman program in the upcoming state budget. Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara has reintroduced legislation to establish a task force to improve care in group homes after the governor vetoed it last year due to funding concerns. The Assembly has included $5 million in its one-house budget to finance the task force and study bills passed annually by the Legislature.

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