FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, September 24, 2021
Contact: Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs, Center for Disability Rights, firstname.lastname@example.org, 518-727-4668.
THE CENTER FOR DISABILITY RIGHTS APPLAUDS CHANGE IN THE LEADERSHIP AT THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND CALLS ON GOVERNOR HOCHUL TO REFORM STATE GOVERNMENT BY REINSTATING THE OFFICE OF THE ADVOCATE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
ROCHESTER, NY: The Center for Disability Rights applauds the change in leadership at the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) with the announcement of Dr. Howard Zucker’s resignation as Commissioner. NYS DOH under Dr. Zucker’s leadership failed elderly and Disabled New Yorkers long before the COVID-19 pandemic when it enacted a series of policies that restricted access to vital home and community-based services, forcing elderly and Disabled New Yorkers into nursing facilities and other institutions. During the pandemic, NYS DOH rebuffed Disability Rights advocates who sought to meet with the department to discuss proposals that could save Disabled lives.
“We urged the Cuomo administration and Dr. Zucker to use FEMA funds for emergency housing and emergency Medicaid funds to provide community-based supports to give them an option to leave and protect themselves,” said Bobbie Wallach a Board Member of the Center for Disabilities Rights who was formerly institutionalized in a nursing facility. “Instead, they were left there to die.”
“Locking Disabled people away in institutions is unjust, but refusing to give them a life-line out of those deathtraps is unconscionable,” said Bruce Darling, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Disability Rights who is also a publicly appointed member of the state’s Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council (MISCC). “For Disabled New Yorkers, Dr. Zucker was not leading the NYS Department of Health; it was the NYS Department of Death.”
Advocates point to the fact that Dr. Zucker held the top position at NYS DOH while the department failed to implement the Cuomo administration’s 2013 Olmstead plan to reduce the long-stay nursing facility population by 10% over five years. When NYS DOH finally reported on their progress, members of the MISCC questioned the report’s numbers which were inconsistent with the numbers used in the original plan. Members of the MISCC and other advocates have continued to seek information from NYS DOH, but the department under Dr. Zucker’s leadership has refused to even meet with them.
“Changing the leadership at the Department of Health needed to happen and is a good first step,” said Zach Garafalo, Manager of Government Affairs at the Center for Disability Rights, “but Governor Hochul needs to do more.” The Center for Disability Rights urges Governor Hochul to hire a Chief Disability Officer and sign legislation unanimously passed by the legislature which would reinstate the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities (A3130/S1836).
The Office of the Advocate will serve as the state’s coordinator for the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), coordinate state activities to ensure that state programs do not discriminate against and are accessible to people with disabilities and ensure that programs provide services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate. Additionally, the Office of the Advocate for People with Disabilities will review proposed legislation and regulations to determine their impact on people with disabilities.
“Governor Andrew Cuomo and Dr. Zucker did not value the experiences – or lives – of people with disabilities,” added Garafalo. “As far as we could tell, Dr. Zucker’s policy position was ‘Better dead than disabled’. Governor Hochul must do better.”
Governor Hochul has an opportunity to demonstrate her commitment to the Disability Community on September 29th when she can address the state’s Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council and begin a dialogue with Council Members in response to a letter they sent to her about these issues.