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2-04-12 Mr. Feeney’s Visit

COMMUNITY OF MIDDLESEX SOS INITIATIVE

TO ADVOCATE FOR DISABLED ADULTS

FORCED TO RELOCATE DUE TO STATE DIRECTIVE TO CLOSE GROUP HOME

 

Middlesex Fire Hall Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 10am – 12:00pm

State Officials present:  Mr. Michael Feeney, Director of FLDDSO (Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Services Offices; Ms. Sherilyn Coleman-Ferrer, OPWDD Deputy Director of Program Operations, FLDDSO Team Leader John Garlock

Media present:  Ms. Gwen Chamberlain, Gatehouse News Service for the Chronicle Express, and the Daily Messenger Newspapers

Public present:  92 Community residents and interested parties present

Meeting Focus:  Director Michael Feeney spoke to Middlesex residents about plans to move individuals from 6166 South Vine Valley Road State-owned Group Home which he said needs upgrades to its fire safety systems.  Residents voiced questions and concerns for the (9) disabled adults being evicted from the home and whether their due rights have been considered by the State.  Dismay and anger were prevalent emotions felt by residents and evident by comments heard when those gathered learned of the intended population from the Monroe Developmental Center inRochester, slated to replace the current Home occupants once safety renovations are completed.  The Monroe Developmental Center in Rochester is also slated to close due to specific safety upgrades which would be too costly for the DDSO network to make.

The meeting started at 10:15am

Mr. Tom Mahaney, Middlesex Firefighter alerted those gathered of the building’s fire exits for evacuation.

Ms. Dawn Kane introduced the proposed agenda for the meeting, reminding those gathered that this meeting was a community initiative, and stating that the meeting would be recorded to memorialize it. In the back were blank petitions to sign as well as a paper with a list of resources from which to gather more information. The petitions would be collected and sent to Commissioner Burke’s office inAlbanyto document our concerns. Ms. Kane then introduced FLDDSO Director Michael Feeney, who addressed approximately 92 residents gathered.  

Mr. Feeney stated that, as Director, it is his job to oversee the 10 countyFinger LakesDDSO Region with over 43 State-owned Group Homes, the Middlesex IRA being one of them.  He then introduced Ms. Sherilyn Coleman Ferrer and Mr. John Garlock stating their positions in the FLDDSO network.  He explained that he would be addressing all questions and answers after a brief explanation of events leading up to the current time, although some questions dealing with confidentiality issues due to the HIPAA Laws, he would not be able to answer.

Mr. Feeney stated that, after 24 years, the present condition at the 6166 S. Vine Valley Road Group Home is not presently within the State’s Fire Safety codes which have changed considerably over the years.  He said there are needs for upgrades to be made due to the aging population which is not ambulatory.  It is in their best interests to identify other locations where more suitable long-term benefits are available for these (9) disabled adults. Also problematic in the home is the presence of steps.  Mr. Feeney said: “We are doing our best to honor family requests, as well as day treatment connections with the ARC of Yates and Ontario Counties.  After transitioning these Home occupants, we will commence the necessary upgrades, maintaining the long-term safety.  The start date and completion date has not been set yet, however we are placing individuals as soon as is possible.”  Mr. Feeney was not able to answer who determined that the current fire codes were being violated, but suggested those interested should request the information in writing.

When questioned, Mr. Feeney claimed that this process was communicated to the impacted families and legal guardians approximately 2-2 ½ months ago when Mr. Garlock started making phone calls. 

Those present countered that, in the case of the Dunton family, the state’s communication measures had not been adequate as they had been told by Mr. Garlock, the Home’s  Team Leader, in early December in a phone conversation but were never given written notification, learning of their sister’s planned relocation in early January, to another Group Home an hour away, difficult to drive to and with unfamiliar peers and staff.   Consistent care over the past 23 years would be disrupted and the day treatment program she regularly attended would not be accessible with the proposed move.

Mr. Feeney apologized and stated that communication had not been as forthcoming as he and others would have liked due to only finding out about the closing themselves on Nov. 25th by a directive from the Commissioner’s office to close certain homes that did not meet the new state building code standards, the Middlesex home being one of them.

Mr. Feeney alluded to a fire event in the Town of Wells, NY in theAdirondacks wherein (4) individuals died in a fire event due to staff oversight of individuals with a higher class of special needs.  He stated that this fire event had changed the fire safety code standards that New York State Office of People with Developmental Disabilities must now adhere to.  Fire Marshall Inspectors have deemed the Middlesex Group Home as one of others that do not meet the new state building code standards.  This home has a fire suppression sprinkler system that Mr. Feeney says is inadequate to safely serve this aging population to be able to evacuate in the event of a fire, a set of steps and sunken living room which is not adequate to the present population and the egress to the building creates a bottle-neck while evacuating a non-ambulatory population.

Residents inquired if the (4) people who died in the Adirondack Group Home fire did so not because they couldn’t get out, but because once out, they were confused and went back in.  Mr. Feeney did not elaborate on an answer to that question but stated he believed it had to do with staffing oversight issues.

Community residents who were familiar with the layout of the Middlesex Home, gave suggestions on how the egress wheelchair ramps could be laid out more efficiently with little effort and questioned the deemed inadequacy of the suppression sprinkler system due to (2) 2500 gallon reservoir tanks which fed the system and a new well which had recently been dug which served the Home with adequate water and water pressure.  It was stated that the sunken living room which was accessed by a set of stairs was not used by the present disabled adults but was used as office space by staff.

A question from the residents in attendance alluded to the closing of the Middlesex Group Home having to do with budgetary concerns from Albany and the need to close the Monroe Developmental Center due to building code upgrades needed which the state could not afford.

Mr. Feeney stated that the Monroe Developmental Center on Westfall Road in Brighton learned their facility no longer met stricter life safety codes for an institutional structure and therefore required a $40 million upgrade.  Instead of investing in that upgrade, it was decided to close the facility and move those individuals to other institutional or community settings like the Middlesex Group Home.

Many residents who were gathered wanted to know who these individuals were and why the State would propose to move them in to the Middlesex Group Home after the stated safety upgrades were completed, instead of moving back the present occupants.  It seemed the NYS OPWDD slogan, which is “Putting People First”, seemed a direct contradiction to the state’s action of uprooting (9) disabled adults from the staff and home they had known for 20+ years and moving them to other group homes where peers and staff were unfamiliar. Others gathered argued that this proposed action by the NYS OPWDD would forever affect the character of theVineValley neighborhood in which the Group Home is located.

Mr. Feeney acknowledged that with the MDC closing, there became a need to find housing for approximately 40 of the 127 individuals within the FLDDSO Group Homes.  Some of them would be sent to other bigger facilities around the state.  20% of these 127 current patients, presently living in the Brighton facility, are now registered under the State Offender Registry as sex offenders and that there was a possibility that 6-8 of this population would be moved to the Middlesex location after renovations were completed.  He further assured those present that the FLDDSO network has the capacity to manage the people moving in as well as a staffing package to appropriately supervise this population that would also fit within state budget requirements. He stated that no one moving into the home would be out in the community unsupervised without extensive training to develop skills for interacting in the community.  He alluded to the possibility of plans for community integration for some of these individuals in the future. He answered a question posed to him by saying that the sex offenders would *not be locked in the building and that there would be no security staff per se.

Countering this news were arguments stating that knowledge of incident reports of criminal behaviors including escapes had been documented in the surrounding townships making it a possibility for high risk to the community in which a seasonal vacationing family population was only 6/10ths of a mile away which included (3) family campgrounds, a public beach and many summer cottages and homes along its Canandaigua Lake shoreline.  A resident who lived within 218 feet from the Middlesex Group Home on South Vine Valley Road voiced concerns about the safety of her 11 year old son and other neighborhood children if someone with a history of sex offenses moved in next door.

Community advocates for the disabled adults spoke of their long-time relationship with them stating the home had been considered part of the community.  Relationships shared included attendance by the occupants to area church services,  legal adoption by a community member  to protect  end of life decisions and  attendance of  approximately (30) community residents to a funeral of one of the Middlesex Group Home occupants. 

Feeney attempted to assure those gathered that the FLDDSO was doing everything possible to find other specified locations for these people who would better provide long-term care for the rest of their lives, as well as making every effort to allow occupants moved to continue access to regularly attended day treatment programs.

At meeting close, Middlesex Town Supervisor Robert Multer was applauded for making the following statement of the Town’s position:

 “As supervisor of the Town ofMiddlesex, I object to the actions taken and about to be taken, regarding the state facility onSouth Vine Valley Road.  The program at that facility that was accepted by this community many years ago is not the same program that you are proposing to establish. We received no notice of the intent to establish a new program at this location. New York State Mental Hygiene Law clearly requires an agency to notify a municipality of its intention to establish a program. We did not receive a notice in writing regarding the type of residence, the number of residents, the community support requirements of the program or the information needed to enable the town to evaluate how the facility will affect the nature and character of the area where this is located. We strongly object to your proposed change and I am hereby requesting you follow the procedure required in mental hygiene law to give us the opportunity to request a hearing.”

FLDDSO Director Michael Feeney assured the crowd that he would take their concerns back to other state officials.  He said, “You have already articulated your concerns passionately.  You are on record very well.”

Also a letter of support for our Community efforts, from our District Legislators Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano to Commissioner Courtney Burke was mentioned to be personally delivered by them to her Albany Office on Monday.

The construction of a community website which can be accessed through: http://www.sos-news.com was explained by Ms. Diane Harris.  Areas of interest will be posted as they are available, a “blog” for personal opinions, comments and ideas would help to unify a seasonal population which winters away.  Downloadable on the website are blank petitions, the letters of support, minutes of the meetings, news articles, and future meeting dates.

The meeting adjourned at approximately 12pm.

Minutes submitted by Lynn Lersch/ Submit revisions to lynn.lersch@gmail.com

 

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