If you live in upstate, by now you can get your hair cut, dine at restaurants and even meet in groups of 25 starting later this week, but, Governor Andrew Cuomo is still not allowing visitors in group homes, saying that these individuals are at higher risk of catching the coronavirus.
This statement sparked outrage from some elected officials, including Duchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.
“The Office of People with Developmental Disabilities believes everyone with an intellectual or developmental disability is somehow susceptible or more at risk to COVID-19,” Molinaro explained. “They are not and quite frankly that is a shameful observation or thought.”
Parents with children in group homes are now pleading with the state, asking that at the very least a plan be announced on when visitations can start up again. Bob Carpenter explained that his son, who lives in a group home, did not understand why he stopped visiting, and now is facing regression in his learning skills due to the lack of consistency in his schedule.
“My youngest child’s name is Bobby. He is 22 years old, he’s severely autistic and lives in a group home with five housemates including his best friend Eric,” Carpenter shared. “In our opinion, the damage to his mental state far outweighs the minimal physical risk of COVID-19. Because of the huge change in his routine and loss of his services, Bobby would start hitting himself in the middle of the night.”
Carpenter is not the only parent feeling heartbroken over not being able to communicate with their children.
“He has no idea why I’m not coming anymore,” Mary Ann Allen explained. “And all I can think of, I write to him, he knows how to read, but I worry every night that he fears that we decided this life was too hard and we’re not going to show up anymore. And we are seeing regression, and he is sitting at home with nothing to do.”
Lawmakers, parents, and advocates have all written letters to the Governor, asking that a reopening plan for group homes be a priority
“I can tell you that this is not top of mind,” Molinaro said. “It does not come up in conversation unless we force it.”
“It’s time. It’s more than time to do it,” Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh urged.
“So far, the answers we have received from state agencies basically amounts to: ‘We need to see what the data provides,” Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara explained. “This has given these families little comfort and hope.”
Jennifer O’Sullivan with the NYS Office for People With Developmental Disabilities sent a statement in response saying, “We understand and hear the frustration and concern from families at not being able to visit or provide in-person comfort to their children who are currently living in a group home. But it’s also our responsibility to ensure the continued health and safety of the vulnerable population we support in group homes and the staff who support them, which is why based on the advice of health experts, we temporarily suspended home visits and visitation at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to cautiously proceed in reopening."
The statement continued, "In the meantime, we encourage providers of housing services to continue to engage families through the use of window visits, online video chats and phone calls and as New York proceeds with the process of reopening, OPWDD continues to work closely with the NYS Department of Health to develop a process and timeline to safely resume visitations and will announce those new guidelines soon.”
States like Massachusetts have already allowed for visitation to resume.