This is a letter to the editor from Finger Lakes Independence Center’s Ann Nadler. To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am writing on behalf of the Finger Lakes Independence Center (FLIC) to oppose the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities’ (OPWDD) revocation of state funding for adults with severe autism and other disabilities whose parents do not wish to move them from out of state facilities and send them to Sunmount, a secure, in-state facility located in a remote location in the Adirondacks. Sometimes there are no smaller, more appropriate placements available in NY State for the parents to consider; nonetheless, Governor Cuomo moved to generally end funding for out-of-state placements.
Adirondack winters can be harsh and transportation options are limited thus potentially limiting visitation. Also, Sunmount may not be able to provide the same level of care as the out-of-state facilities. Some parents are further concerned that Sunmount also houses those who have committed serious criminal offenses. Furthermore, the voices of the parents are reportedly being suppressed, including allegedly in one case with threats of arrest for a parent and a Massachusetts school representative who wanted the parent to see Sunmount prior to transfer.
The placement in large institutions located in out-of-the-way places of those who have limited ability to make their voices heard, and where oversight is difficult and questionable, is heartless and denies the rights of both those with disabilities and those of their parents. This harsh unilateral move by the OPWDD fails to incorporate a landmark court ruling; the 1999 ruling in Olmstead v. L.C. Supreme Court found that unjustified segregation was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Olmstead further established the principle of allowing for the least restrictive, most community-integrated setting possible. Additionally, a 2014 state law recognized that parents have a right to due process when long-term care of their adult children is being considered.
A group of state lawmakers recently requested that Gov. Kathy Hochul eliminate the policy that results in the removal of funding if parents do not consent to their child’s placement at Sunmount. FLIC supports this request. NY state citizens must express their outrage to Gov. Hochul and let her know that this situation is intolerable. We must not quietly accept a return to the days of locking away those with disabilities, diminishing the quality of their lives, perhaps even risking their lives, and denying decision-making input by their parents.
Ann Nadler, Statewide Systems Advocate at the Finger Lakes Independence Center (FLIC)