Popular, bi-partisan bill requires caregivers to call 911 for suspected abuse of disabled NY’ers

Gazette photo by Thomas Giery Pudney
Michael Carey, right, is asking the Assembly Democratic Conference to allow a vote on a bill that would require caregivers and other employees to call 911 if there is any suspicion of abuse against a disabled person in New York. Carey is holding a portrait of his son Jonathan who was killed 10 years ago by state caregivers.

With 137 sponsors attached to it, a leading advocate for the disabled is calling on the Assembly to act on a bill that would require a mandatory 911 call for even the suspicion of abuse against a disabled person in New York.

Failure to do so would result in being charged with a Class E felony.

Spearheading the bill’s advancement is Michael Carey, whose son Jonathan Carey died in 2007 while under the care of a state-run facility for the disabled.

Jonathan, who was diagnosed with autism, died during a routine transportation run with the state-run facility he lived in. The direct care worker in charge of Jonathan’s safety and well-being used excessive restraint on him, and an emergency call was never made after it became clear Jonathan was not breathing. “I want everyone to understand the severity of what’s going on,” Carey said. “My son never would have been killed if 911 had been called multiple times before [that day].”

Such abuse of the developmentally disabled is not entirely uncommon, Carey says. This bill would make it mandatory for instances of suspected abuse or unexplained injuries to be immediately reported to both a 911 operator, the district attorney for the county where the suspected abuse took place, and the emergency contact person listed for the victim.

The bill identifies several situations for which an emergency call must be made, including broken bones, hematomas, open wounds beyond minor first aid, black eyes, swollen noses, extreme and questionable bruising, choke marks, burns, and for all individuals served found unresponsive and for all deaths.

The bill — sponsored by David Weprin, D-Queens, and Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island — states “often it is the case that people with illnesses, disabilities and vulnerabilities suffer incidents of abuse that go unreported.” Therefore, the bill (S.4736-a/A.6830) would mandate that even if there is the suspicion of abuse a report has to be made to a 911 operator and the county district attorney.

Currently, care staff for the developmentally disabled are directed not to call 911, which bypasses police investigations, district attorneys, medical examiners, and even coroners in the case of a death.

Instead, their emergency calls are made to a nurse triage hotline, where medical issues are handled without the involvement of local police or the services of a hospital.

“911 is a basic right and privilege for everyone,” said Carey. “People with disabilities are not second-class citizens unworthy of immediate 911 medical and police services.”

The bill most recently saw movement in the Senate when it was sent to the Finance Committee on May 16. In the Assembly, it moved from the Social Services to the mental health Committee on March 30.

Carey says he was given assurance by Assembly leaders that the bill would go to a floor vote if he could garner more than 76 cosponsors. The Assembly version currently has 97 signatures, while the Senate version has 40 sponsors.

There is overwhelming bi-partisan support in both houses.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, R-New Suffolk, has expressed his support for the bill, urging colleagues in the Assembly to vote on it before the end of session, scheduled for June 21.

“The story of Jonathan Carey is truly heartbreaking,” said Palumbo. “As legislators, we need to do all we can to ensure that something like this will never happen again. I believe that the 911 bill presented today will do a lot to prevent this type of mistreatment. As this year’s legislative session comes to an end this month, I hope to see this bill brought to the floor for a vote. It has overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle; this is the year to make it happen.”

The bill has also found support in Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino, R-Sayville, who has joined Carey and his wife Lisa in pushing for the passage of this bill.

“Vulnerable New Yorkers are targets of abuse every day and it goes unreported,” said Garbarino. “Such was the case of young Jonathan Carey, who at 13, lost his life due to abuse inflicted by one of his caregivers. The New York State Legislature must stop stalling on this bill and bring reform and some justice to the Carey family and any others suffering from abuse today.”