News10NBC Investigates: Doctor for developmentally disabled patients says what’s happening to group homes is a ‘disastrous situation’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Since Thanksgiving, dozens of people with disabilities have been waking up in a house that is not their home.

The state temporarily closed 11 group homes in our area: Lima, Autumn Lane, West Sparta, Whittier, St. Paul, Latta, Gorham, Port Gibson, Bloomfield, Witter and Rt. 96, because they don’t have enough people to work and we started tracking this issue when the residents started getting moved around.

One advocate told News10NBC that he puts the blame at the feet of former governor Andrew Cuomo.

Brean: "When we spoke on the phone this morning you described the situation as disastrous."

Dr. David Breen, Geneseo: "It is."

David Been is a family doctor in Geneseo and Dansville.
He treats all kinds of patients but specializes in children with disabilities.

After the state temporarily closed group homes at Thanksgiving, he blamed a decade of decisions by former Governor Como who Breen says "grew to dislike the subject of developmentally disabled people."

Brean: "How do you levy a charge like that?"

Dr. Breen: "I’ve been observing this system very closely."

Dr. Breen sits on several boards including the Board of Visitors which visits and inspects group homes.

"And I’m also a parent," he said. "I have a 20-year-old son who has autism."

Rish Azzopardi, spokesman for Cuomo emailed writing, "all we did was work hard every day for the people of this state and will have no further comment on these personal attacks."

State agency budgets are complicated.

The overall budget of the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities during Cuomo’s tenure increased by $200 million between last year and this year.

Other reports say there were cuts buried in the budget especially to non-profits who do the bulk of the work.

Two weeks ago, OPWDD closed 11 group homes including the West Sparta home of Torie Garrison’s son.

"They switched the code," she said after trying the locked front door.

The state consolidated residents like Garrison’s son into bigger homes like one in Dansville.

The state blames staffing and says it has to fill 537 direct care openings.

I shared the state’s response with doctor Breen.

Brean: "That they’re dealing with a workforce shortage of ‘crisis proportions.’"

Dr. Breen: "I agree."

That the state has a $1.5 billion campaign to attract new nurses and aides.

Dr. Breen: "That sounds great."

Brean: "But in the meantime, they say they have to temporarily consolidate some of their group homes to deal with this staffing crisis. And that is the closure of these group homes."

Dr. Breen: "That remains to be seen. I have not seen a group home that was closed that was opened back up. And I will believe that when I see it."

I have several agencies working on getting me accurate information on what the state budget for people with disabilities has been over the past 10 years.

Thursday morning, Dr. Breen is meeting with the head of the Finger Lakes agency that oversees group homes on behalf of OPWDD.