Cuomo Was Warned His COVID Group Home Policies Would Kill
A New York State whistleblower says that another wrongheaded policy has cost lives to the state’s most vulnerable, and he blames Governor Andrew Cuomo.
In 2011, Jeff Monsour won a landmark federal jury trial for whistleblower retaliation after he disclosed abuses in New York state’s group homes. He told The American Conservative that he and Mike Carey, whose son died in a group home over fourteen years ago, have been warning everyone—including Gov. Cuomo—of the so-called floating policy and its deleterious effects on COVID spread in group homes.
“You must immediately STOP all floating of caregivers throughout your entire mental health system. This is extremely dangerous and deadly,” Carey wrote in March 2020 to Cuomo’s office.
Monsour says that this floating system means that group home employees move from one home to another. “They aren’t even required to get tested [for COVID],” Monsour said. As a result, COVID-positive employees could move from home to home, spreading COVID in multiple places.
In May 2020, Cuomo was confronted about this policy by CBS 6 in Albany. “On the moving of staff, I don’t know if that’s proper procedure or not but we can check,” he answered. “I don’t know the policy at OPWDD, but we’ll check with the staffing policy and check to see if there was a change.”
Monsour says he does not believe that Cuomo was unaware of this or any New York State policy: “His office micromanages everything.” Furthermore, though Cuomo was asked about this policy in May, Monsour says it remains in place today.
He says that Stony Brook, a group home run by the state, recently had an outbreak of COVID, with 10 people testing positive in the last month. He blames this “floater” policy, because two employees had recently returned, without being tested, from another group home which did have COVID cases.
The governor’s office did not respond to an email for comment.
The state’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) oversees the group homes. OPWDD issued a statement acknowledging this policy but insisting that it’s rarely used:
The safety and security of the people supported by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities is our greatest priority and in homes where positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified, OPWDD only allows the re-assignment of staff when absolutely necessary to maintain crucial staffing levels if there is no other option to ensure safety. And we take all necessary precautions to protect staff and residents, including infection control practices, quarantine measures, and PPE usage.
Monsour, in response, said the statement was nothing but spin:
OPWDD was totally unprepared for the pandemic due to years of systemic mismanagement. OPWDD had other mechanisms they could’ve utilized during the pandemic to limit the floating of DSP, (e.g. utilizing other trained employees that were sitting at home, there should’ve been no floating to medically frail group homes, floating should not have occurred across county lines). OPWDD had no facility set up to bring COVID-positive patients for recovery; they returned them right into the group homes. There is only one thing that OPWDD has been proficient at during this pandemic and that is retaliating against employees that voice their concerns.
Monsour said he has faced nothing but retaliation in response to his numerous complaints and disclosures regarding this policy. He said he was put on administrative leave once for a month, reassigned three times, and ordered into counseling. The retaliation is even more brazen given Monsour’s 2011 victory in court, when a jury decided the state had retaliated against him due to previous disclosures of abuses at group homes.
Carey stated that just as with the COVID deaths in nursing homes, Governor Cuomo is responsible for the deaths which have occurred in group homes as a result of this floater policy.
“Gov. Cuomo ignored dozens of whistle-blower complaints regarding basic lifesaving measures to protect our most vulnerable from dying in his own facilities and he KNOWINGLY continued to float caregivers from COVID positive group homes to other group homes without mandatory testing of staff – KNOWINGLY spreading the virus and death,” Carey recently stated in an email.
OWPDD recently told Fox News there have been 558 deaths in group homes, but Carey believes the number is much higher. “The OPWDD death totals are believed to be significantly higher than OPWDD is claiming, because of a previous death total of 324 released in May of 2020 and the ongoing deadly policy of floating staff from COVID group homes to non-COVID homes,” Carey said in an email.
Carey’s son, Jonathan, died in a group home in 2007, after he was abused by a staff member. After the New York Times ran a story about the death, Gov. Cuomo vowed action, but Carey said the changes only allowed his office to hide more abuse, rather than uncover it.
Carey also believes that just like with the death counts in nursing homes, Cuomo’s office has proactively worked to cover up the extent of the damage. As shown in emails he provided to TAC, he has repeatedly in the last year been thwarted from receiving responses to FOIA requests for data on deaths in group homes.
“Endangering the Welfare of Incompetent and Physically Disabled People was finally changed from a misdemeanor to a felony criminal offense in 2012. I fought extremely hard for this critical reform for five years following the death of my precious 13 year old son Jonathan, who was killed by his New York State employed caregivers in 2007.” Carey further stated in an email. “Similar to the nursing home death scandal, the Cuomo administration is hiding the death numbers to conceal the deaths of those in his agencies and group homes from the New York State legislature, local authorities, the media and from families.”
Michael Volpe has worked as a freelance journalist since 2009, after spending more than a decade in finance. He’s based in Chicago.