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Sunmount under fire following incident last year (NCPR file photo)
Sunmount under fire following incident last year (NCPR file photo)

Officials say reforms underway at Sunmount and statewide

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Yesterday in Albany, the state Assembly held a public hearing into allegations that some disabled people have been abused while cared for at facilities like Sunmount in Tupper Lake.

A New York Times report last week suggested that "systemic abuse" exists across the state, especially at large institutional care facilities. As Todd Moe reports, state officials say reforms are now underway.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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State officials said they are working to answer charges that people with developmental disabilities could be at risk when they are sent to big institutional facilities such as Sunmount in Tupper Lake.

Courtney Burke, head of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said, "It is my expectation that every OPWDD employee takes reports of abuse and neglect seriously and acts swiftly to insure safety in our system."

Burke, who spoke during a state Assembly hearing in Albany, said reforms are already underway. "This review will lead to thoughtful, comprehensive changes to these systems and will assure that an appropriate design for abuse prevention and remediation is in place," she said. "That comprehensive review will take more time, but I have taken immediate steps to heighten protections for individuals receiving services in our system."

In the report last week, a New York Times reporter, Danny Hakim, argued that some of the most vulnerable residents have experienced systemic emotional and physical abuse and that investigations have been bungled. The report also criticized the state for hiring unqualified workers or people with criminal records.

In an interview yesterday on the public radio program Capital Pressroom, Hakim said he thought questions about patient care at the Sunmount facility following an incident last year still need to be answered.

"I wrote about a gentleman at Sunmount who was over 300 pounds, very tall, very physical," Hakim said. "While he could be physical, the response to him was overwhelmingly physical.  And then when you have employees going on Facebook and bragging about beating up 'retards,' which is the word that they used, I don't think anyone would think that's an appropriate response."

Following that incident, five Sunmount staff were placed on administrative leave.  State officials say safety measures now in place make that kind of incident less likely.

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