Cuomo’s Other Negligence Crisis
The nursing home scandal looks all too familiar to some longtime critics of the New York governor.
Mike Carey is not surprised that Gov. Andrew Cuomo failed to protect vulnerable New Yorkers in nursing homes during COVID. In fact, as shown in emails he shared, he and others warned Gov. Cuomo’s office in March 2020 that a crisis was forming.
“If you, the governor and all other top NYS mental health officials continue to ignore our whistleblower complaints,” Carey stated in an email to an official in the State of New York Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, on March 23, 2020, “regarding the coronavirus pandemic your negligence could lead to the catastrophic loss of lives of people with disabilities, as well as state and private caregivers.”
Carey knows first-hand how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deals with New York State’s most vulnerable. Fourteen years ago, his son Jonathan died at a group home after an employee abused him. Jonathan Michael Carey “was developmentally disabled, he had autism and he was non-verbal and only 13 years old when he was killed. Almost all of dozens of safety and abuse prevention bills along with the critical 911 Civil Rights Bill have been blocked from becoming law by the Cuomo administration who runs the mental health care system,” Carey recently stated in a press release on the anniversary of his son’s death on February 15.
Carey’s story was featured in a series of articles in the New York Times in 2011; the publicity led Gov. Cuomo to proclaim he would act to clean up abuses in about one thousand group homes for the mentally challenged throughout New York State. Cuomo created the Justice Center, which was supposed to take over all investigations into abuses at these homes.
Rather than solving the problem, according to Carey, Cuomo’s solution only exacerbated it. He claims the Justice Center has buried most complaints, while accused group home employees have been shuffled from one home to another. He has watched as Cuomo’s administration has acted with impunity, often ruling through executive order and refusing to provide data on complaints of abuse at group homes.
Carey was one of several New York whistleblowers featured in a 2018 documentary entitled Whistleblowers. “It’s not documented, it didn’t happen,” he said in the documentary. “This agency is a complete fraud,” Carey continued, referring to the Justice Center, “Corrupt to the core and literally burying thousands of cases every single month. Criminal cases.”
He then explained the process by which the state buried these cases. “What the state is doing is circumventing, bypassing the 911 call systems. So, if you’re a victim of a sex crime, basically the call goes from the mandated reporter into a state abuse hotline, which is all internal. They funnel the complaint right back to the facility where the state crime occurred.” He said, “Then, basically, they give the facility all the time and the ability to move and destroy the evidence.”
In 2018, Cuomo fired Jay Kiyonaga after he engaged in “improper and sexually inappropriate acts” directed at female subordinates, according to a 2018 New York Post article. He was then administrator of the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
Carey said in the documentary he believes one third of the residents of these group homes continue to be sexually abused in them. The state paid $3 million to the family of a boy abused in one of these homes in 2018; according to a press release from Carey, the abuser called the home“a predator’s dream.” “The lack of supervision there made it easy to do what I did,” he said of the group home system under Cuomo. “I could have stayed in that house for years and abused him every day without anybody even noticing at all.”
Now, as Cuomo’s controversial decisions regarding his state’s elderly and disabled citizens during the coronavirus crisis come under scrutiny, whistleblowers like Carey recognize the same patterns they have been concerned about for years. In fact, they warned Cuomo’s administration early and repeatedly that New York state’s most vulnerable were not being protected from COVID.
“Dear Commissioner Kastner: Why is OPWDD sending vulnerable medically frail individuals from OPWDD group homes and non-for-profit agencies to day programs during the COVID-19 outbreak?” one whistleblower asked via email on March 11, 2020. “OPWDD has trained me to take proactive approaches to situations that could jeopardize our individual’s health and well-being.”
“Dear Commissioner Kastner & all others in positions of responsibility. People with disabilities MUST be minimally protected as anyone else,” Carey stated in another email from March 11, 2020. “Neglecting them in this Coronavirus CRISIS would be considered ‘gross & deliberate indifference’ and felony criminal according to NYS penal law 260.25. EMERGENCY ACTION MUST BE TAKEN NOW TO PREVENT DEATHS.”
As in the widely reported nursing home COVID deaths, the extent of the abuse in homes for the disabled was initially obscured, with relevant data hidden. Carey said he only discovered how far the group home crisis went after filing numerous Freedom of Information Act requests and piecing together the data himself. Much like with COVID, the Cuomo administration took significant steps to control the flow of information, denying repeated FOIA requests as Carey continued to ask for data for Justice Center abuse numbers.
“Dear Records Officer Delia,” Carey says in an email on July 20, 2020, “As you are fully aware, your response is in direct violation of NYS FOIL law. The PUBLIC information I requested is a click of a button away.”
Carey was able to get enough data early on to show that abuse continued to be a huge problem in group homes. In a FOIA request from 2016, Carey asked how many reports the hotline, which was created to handle complaints, received since its inception on June 30, 2013. The response stated the hotline had received 18,145 substantiated complaints and another 37,474 unsubstantiated complaints.”
Carey said in his analysis of current data he’s been able to gather, he estimates this hotline continues to receive approximately 8,000 complaints monthly.
An email to Governor Cuomo’s press office was left unreturned.
Michael Volpe has worked as a freelance journalist since 2009, after spending more than a decade in finance. He’s based in Chicago.