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Saturday, December 18, 2021

Group home cuts cause residents to move with no notice, brings trauma

Zachary Garrison and four other residents at the West Sparta IRA in Dansville were moved without prior written notice or explanation on Thanksgiving.

It wasn’t until the next day that Zachary’s father received a phone call to inform him that all his son’s belongings were moved to the nearby Derby Intermediate Care facility.

Zachary is developmentally disabled. The move saw him unexpectedly transferred to different living quarters as the state struggles with what is says is an employee shortage.

The situation has left affected families angry and worried as they grapple with the sudden turnabout, while decrying what they describe as an intentional winnowing of the state’s group homes.

FAMILY ALLEGATIONS

Torie Garrison, Zachary’s mother, said they were first alerted to a potential move on Oct. 25. At the time it wasn’t a definite thing — simply a possibility — that Zachary’s group home might close temporarily.

“When they said that, obviously, I said I didn’t want him moved,” she said. “Nothing was said. Nobody knew anything.”

Then the day before Thanksgiving she received a phone call informing her they were moving everybody in the house to the Dogwood Day Treatment Center, also in Dansville, where they would be staying on cots.

The Garrisons told the West Sparta IRA that Zachary would not be moved. Gov. Kathy Hochul also got wind of the plan and shut it down.

In the meantime Zachary left for Thanksgiving break with his father, which is when his belongings were moved.

“They did it illegally,” Torie said. “Not only did they violate his civil Constitutional and human rights, but they violated the eviction laws that they put in place to protect you, me and my son. Every one of those residents should have received a written notice ... They need to go to court and have a legal eviction.”

Torie said officials even kept it from their staff members until the morning when they instructed everyone to move people’s belongings.

Although Zachary was only moved 15 minutes away, Torie pointed out the state could have moved him anywhere without her knowledge.

“Calls have been made by several people including Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes ... and those calls have gone unanswered with no return calls,” she wrote in a message to the Livingston County News Facebook page.

Torie said if anyone had notice, they could have made other arrangements and Zachary was put in a home which wasn’t in his best interest. She explained Zachary is a runner; when he gets upset, he runs. In the group home they moved him to, he’s within the town and there are no fences.

When The Daily News talked to Torie two weeks ago, Zachary was unaware his belongings had been moved.

“Just the apprehension and anxiety, hearing all the staff talking about it put him into orbit,” Torie said. “He ended up having two mental health arrests and going to Strong Hospital, which he’s never had in his life. I don’t know what they think is going to happen when he thinks he’s coming back to (West Sparta IRA), and he’s really going somewhere he’s never been in his life. All around these strange people that he doesn’t know.”

Zachary has had to sustain mental and emotional damage Torie said she can’t fix and will never go away.

LONG-STANDING ISSUES

The closing of group homes due to lack of staff isn’t a shock to those who have been working in the industry for the past decade. While wages in the 1980s and 1990s were double the minimum wage, these days Department of Public Safety (DPS) workers can make more money working in fast food restaurants.

Randi DiAntonio, who worked for Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) for 25 years as a social worker, said she has never in her career seen circumstances like this. She said it began when Gov. Andrew Cuomo started the transformation agenda back in 2012.

“He closed almost all of the state-operated ISF — which are intermediate care facilities,” she said. “Then he really started shifting the system to a managed cared model. It really changed the dynamics of how the agency delivers services.”

Between 2009 and 2019 the state closed over 3,000 group home beds.

But what’s concerning, DiAntonio said, is they had to use the Freedom of Information Act for the number of beds which have been closed; the state said they have stopped tracking it and don’t keep track of their waiting list anymore.

DiAntonio said OPWDD hasn’t been willing to be transparent with that information, so a lot of what they know about the closures is learned as they happen, anecdotally through the union members and when parents found out.

The state reduced the OPWDD workforce by about 15 percent from 2009 to 2020. The direct care staff have been working double, triple and even quadruple shifts during COVID. DiAntonio said nobody can really come to work and not know when they’re coming home.

“The union believes if they worked with us and worked with our nurses and our staff who know the individuals best, we could have come up with a much better plan,” DiAntonio said. “Unfortunately we found about it the day before. So many of these closures that happened (Thanksgiving) week were ‘consolidations,’ is what they’re calling them.”

Leisa Abraham, a psychologist who worked for OPWDD on and off for 30 years, works in group homes. She said starting in 2019 they were notified by the agency of a temporary suspension of services in one of their group homes in Seneca County. Finger Lakes DDSO spans over 10 counties and up until the closures, had 150 group homes.

“We’ve been a thriving part of our communities, and certainly been providing services in group homes for our people,” she said.

When the first group home closed in 2019, they were told it was due to the condition of the home. Some maintenance repairs needed to be done.

However, since 2020, a total of 20 group homes have been closed. The vast majority have been in 2021. The reason for the closure have changed from the condition of the home to staffing.

“Our staffing issues quite frankly predate COVID,” Abraham said. “For years they have been holding our budget hostage where they wouldn’t allow it to grow over 2 percent.”

To stop the deterioration of the group homes, she said staffing is a real problem. They’ve asked the OPWDD what the recruitment is — they used to have a presence in job fairs and community colleges. They want assurance that when the staffing improves the group homes which closed will re-open.

Abraham said the loss of beds is a real loss to the community. Their wait list years ago was at 13,000 people, and Abraham doubts it shrunk.

Dr. David Breen is a pediatrician in Livingston County who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of children with disabilities. He worked for the OPWDD at Finger Lakes DDSO for 15 years.

“As young parents who have been raising developmentally disabled children become old, they can’t manage them anymore,” he said. “For that reason we need to be building new group homes.”

The moving of people have been absolutely traumatic for those affected, Abraham said. A lot of the group homes have been formed in the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of the residents have lived in them for decades.

“So it would be like you or I moving out of our house of 20 years,” she said. “With these particular moves, there has been very little input from anybody for the need or where people are going, including the individuals who are moving or their families.”

New York State is obligated to take care of people; they are the agency of last resort.

“We don’t get to say no to people,” DiAntonio said. “Voluntary agencies do a great job, but they also get to say you’re too difficult to serve. We can’t provide for you because we don’t have the right supports. The state has a Constitutional obligation; they’re the safety net. When we cut state services, which we have for a decade, that’s really a significant constituency issue. People in communities won’t get what they need.”

She said it’s not just OPWDD; it’s the Office for Mental Health which closed about 6,000 in-patient psychiatric beds since 2009 in the state. There are people who are getting hurt or hurting others, she said, and they are on the streets when they shouldn’t be.

And it is all around Cuomo having a 2 percent cap on all state agencies for the past decade, she said.

HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF

From 1947 to 1987, Willowbrook State School was a state-supported institution for children with intellectual disabilities in Staten Island.

However, it became notorious as it was found out the people inside were beaten, left unattended, naked or in rags.

Willowbrook was overcapacity, with overstressed and underfunded staff. By 1969, Willowbrook, designed with a capacity for 4,000 patients, reached its peak of 6,200.

While Robert Kennedy first spoke of it, saying Willowbrook had “a situation that borders on a snake pit,” it wasn’t until journalists Jane Kurtin and Geraldo Rivera covered the story that alarm bells started ringing.

“It resulted in the closure of these major developmental institutions around the country,” Breen said. “Then we started what is now the group homes system.

“Group homes are an excellent place for people to live,” he said. “They have shifts of state employees from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 to 11 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. They eat high quality food. They go to a doctor in the community and have very good medical care. They go to day treatment programs for physical, occupational and speech therapy.”

Breen said the problem is now group homes are being shuttered and closed, and the “supposed” cause of that is there is no money to hire nurses.

He said the United States has been a leader in the world for the care of people with severe disabilities. New York State has been a leader in the country.

However, for the last five years the word from Cuomo was the money which came out of the Medicaid budget is under tighter scrutiny; that there just isn’t any money.

“The fact is Gov. Cuomo made a judgement that there is money for some things like a bridge in New York City named after his father for a million dollars and other projects, but there isn’t any money for the developmentally disabled, their families or the professionals who take care of them,” Breen said.

He said his opinion is Gov. Cuomo didn’t like anything to do with developmentally disabled people because the DPS workers are unionized, and Cuomo hated that.

“Like the developmental agencies which were huge with thousands of individuals living in poor conditions like in Willowbrook in the 1970s, we are now reproducing a situation similar to that,” he said.

Breen said with Hochul being the governor now, as well as a new OPWDD commissioner, he hopes there will be improvement in the situation.

STATE RESPONSE

The Daily News reached out to the OPWDD regarding the closures.

Jennifer O’Sullivan, director of communications for the OPWDD, said the agency gives families as much notice as possible prior to completing any move and the needs of each person are a major part of the planning for any move. People have been able to remain close to their original homes with staff who are familiar to them.

“OPWDD and our provider agencies, as well as most human services organizations across the country, are facing a workforce shortage of crisis proportions. The Hochul Administration is working on multiple strategies to confront this crisis and improve the staffing situation, one of which was announced recently in the $1.5 billion workforce incentive package,” O’Sullivan said in a statement sent to The Batavia Daily News. “In order to manage a large footprint of group homes that support tens of thousands of people across the state, OPWDD has been exploring a variety of options, including temporary consolidation of certain group homes, to maintain quality care and workplace conditions. While these are temporary consolidations, they will remain in place until such time that we can achieve safe and appropriate staffing levels.”

No homes have been temporarily suspended in Wyoming County. Five homes were recently temporarily suspended in Livingston County: Lima, Autumn Lane, Dansville, West Sparta, Witter.

Since 2009, the group homes in the following counties have been temporarily suspended:

  • Genesee County: Clinton Park (2021)
  • Livingston County: Conesus (2019), Lima (2021), Autumn Lane (2021), Dansville (2021), West Sparta (2021), Witter (2021)
  • Orleans County: West Center (2021)
  • Wyoming County: none

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W. PETE MAIRS

W. PETE MAIRS
Walter D. “Pete” Mairs, 81, died peacefully on July 23, 2021. Born in Avon, N.Y., on Sept. 3, 1939, Pete was a longtime resident of Geneva, N.Y., and these past many years in Buffalo, N.Y., as well as his beloved Silver Lake. Pete is survived by his wife, Linda Bergstrom Mairs, a loving and true companion; children, Mimi C. Mairs, Jonathan B. Mairs; sisters, June Huff, Helen Dole; brother, Thomas Mairs; stepchildren, Daniel Brinkworth, Jennie Ramsey; sister-in-law, Anne Bergstrom, eight beautiful grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. A service and celebration of life is planned for the fall when all can share the joy of Pete’s life together. Arrangements by Stephenson – Dougherty Funeral Home, Avon, N.Y.

Editor's Note: It was a privilege knowing and working with Pete Mairs during his presidency of the Silver Lake Institute. He was a kind and gentle man, but also firm in his leadership. I served as Treasurer and Chaplain of SLI during those years and I could always depend on Pete's presence in the worship service. He was a man of faith and a gem of a human being. May he rest in God's care.

GERALD C. SAHRLE

GERALD C. SAHRLE
Gerald C. Sahrle, 80, of Perry, passed away on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. He was born on Oct. 10, 1941, in Wayland, N.Y., to the late Charles A. and Helen I. (Blowers) Sahrle. Gerry was a line foreman for 32 1/2 years for NYSE&G, working out of the Perry and Hamburg locations, and was a Town of Perry Councilman. He was a member of the Free and Accepted Masons of the Constellation Lodge -404 in Perry. He was an avid fisherman, hunter and woodworker. He is survived by his wife, Valary A. (Conley) Sahrle; 1 son, Gerald (Pamela) Sahrle II of Silver Springs; 2 sisters, Millie Edmond of Greece, Bonnie Fink of Winston-Salem, N.C., 3 brothers, Ronald (Linda) Sahrle of Dansville, Robert (Susan) Sahrle of Springwater, Kenneth Sahrle of Dansville; 5 grandchildren, Bradley Musscarella, Stone and Winston Sahrle, Conley and Cooper Gayton; along with many nieces, nephews and friends. Along with his parents, he is preceded in death by a brother, Thomas Sahrle, who passed away in 2012. Services will be held at the convenience of the family. Gerry will be laid to rest in West Perry Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Perry Center Fire Department, P.O. Box 204, Perry, NY 14530. For more information, please call (585) 237-2626 or to leave a message of condolence, visit www.eatonwatsonfuneralhome.com. Arrangements completed by Eaton-Watson Funeral Home, LLC. 98 North Main Street, Perry, NY 14530.

Editor's Note: Gerald and Valarie could always be seen in the family pew with Pamela, Stone and Winston at Perry First United Methodist Church and continue to be loved. Gerry will be sorely missed. Both were supporters of the Arts at the Silver Lake Institute and Valarie was active in painting and participating in the Annual Show in August. Valarie's presence was always valued and appreciated.

KATHARINE E. PRACZKAJLO ("Kathy P.")

KATHARINE E. PRACZKAJLO ("Kathy P.")
"Kathy P." passed November 8, 2021, of Hamburg and Boston, NY. Beloved daughter of Joseph and Barbara Michalak; loving sister of Daniel Michalak; devoted wife of the late Jeffrey Praczkajlo; cherished mother of Jennifer (Shawn) Jump; loving babcia of Lily Jump; also survived by many beloved family members and friends who became her family. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.

Editor's Note: "Kathy P." as she was better known to us at Silver Lake was an annual summer visitor for most of the last number of years at the invitation of Silver Laker Julia Hoffner. She stayed at the Hoffner Cottage, and became known as both the fun visitor with the vivacious smile to the neighbors at the intersection of Haven Ave. and the Ames Walkway. Kathy P. and Julie could be seen walking and talking between the cottage and the Hoffner boathouse where they could be close to the water. She was also occasionally seen at the Saturday morning breakfasts at Stoody Hall. Her stay was anywhere between 4 days and a week where she had the opportunity to develop a love for Silver Lake. She was not yet eligible for retirement when late last week she developed "a cold" and had to remain home from her job. She did not update her condition over the weekend so the local police made a wellness visit and found her deceased on Monday. She was one of those many people who found Silver Lake and friendship for brief respites where she also found new strength and energy to return to work. She is being particularly mourned by those in the Haven/Ames neighborhood. She will be memorialized next summer at the annual Celebration of Life Memorial Service at Epworth Hall.

BRENDA J. PADDOCK

BRENDA J. PADDOCK
Brenda Joan Paddock, 82, of Perry, born April 15, 1939, now resides in heaven with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Brenda met Jesus as her Savior in 1965. She met him in person on Nov. 14, 2021. She had a beautiful homecoming with music, singing and praying, leading her into Glory. Her last words were “I am well, I am well.”

Brenda’s greatest loves were her family and friends. Brenda had five children with her husband Roger: Don and Daelene Paddock of Florida, Jody and Tim Von Sanden of Pavilion, Bradley and Jeanie Paddock of Warsaw, Jennifer and Paul Guy of Massachusetts, and Nathan and Jill Paddock of Perry.

Brenda dearly loved her grandchildren: Jessica Morillo, Nikki and Clint O’Brien, Luke Paddock, Paul Paddock, Ian and Brooklyn Paddock, Joe and Louana Paddock, Burke and Megan Paddock, Aaron Paddock, Ellen Paddock, Andrew Paddock, Rachael Paddock, Abigail Paddock, Erik and Cassandra Von Sanden, Jacquelyn and Michael Jones, Tim Von Sanden, Brandon and Brandee Paddock, Jamey and Laura Paddock, Peter and Kara Guy, Candy and Jay Waitkevich, Marlo and Ryan Bolger and Jenna and Rory Peterson.

Brenda was blessed and loved her great grandchildren: Chloe, Olivia and Nicholas Von Sanden, Joshua and Jaxon Morillo, Jameson and Cassandra O’Brien, Atlas Paddock, Noah and Ezra Jones, Colton, Brantley and Charlotte Guy, Cameron Waitkevich, Amelia Bolger and Brennen Leonard.

Brenda is also survived by her brother and sister in laws; Frank and Emma Paddock, Viva and Jim Phillips-Richardson and Kurt and Lynn Paddock.

Brenda first started working as a secretary at Perry Central School. She then assisted her husband building Paddock’s Breeding Service. Roger and Brenda together built and ran the Sandsabarn teenage nightclub. Brenda was owner and operator of Serendipity Travel. Brenda’s pleasures included playing organ and piano. She played at a number of area churches along with performing for her loved ones. UPDATED -- Brenda also played with conviction at both indoor and outdoor services at the Silver Lake Institute where her grandson, Luke, sang at Epworth Hall on several occasions and was appreciated by all who heard his inspiring voice.

Brenda was preceded in death by her parents Noble and Freda Buckland, her husband Roger and son Bradley.

A Committal service at West Perry Cemetery will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, November 17 at 11 a.m., followed by a Celebration of Life at LaGrange Baptist Church at 4 p.m.

Memorial donations may be made in Brenda’s honor to the LaGrange Baptist Church 7092 LaGrange Rd. Perry, NY 14530 or to the First Congregational Church P.O. Box 156 Perry, NY 14530. Arrangements completed by Eaton-Watson Funeral Home, LLC. 98 N. Main St., Perry, N.Y. 14530. For more information or to sign the online guest registry please visit www.eatonwatsonfuneralhome.com.

AUGUST 4-7, 2022

AUGUST 4-7, 2022
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