Updated: June 15, 2020 06:04 PM
Created: June 15, 2020 05:52 PM
BRIGHTON, N.Y. (WHEC) — "Unpause our kids!" was the chant from Westfall Road in Brighton.
The people chanting the slogan were the parents and siblings of people who live in state-run group homes. They protested outside the state agency that runs the homes, the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities.
The last time they saw their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters in person was early March.
"My father died two weeks ago. My brother doesn't even know it," Sharon Messina said. Her brother David is 51 years old.
"I really do have a plan so I can tell him, in two weeks this is going to be done," Cathy Vaughan said. Her son, Ryan, is 27.
"It's not a pause," said Tom Simmons, whose son Kevin is 40 years old. "It's a lockdown."
News10NBC went through the transcripts of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's daily briefings and group homes were not in any of his talking points although Better Nursing Homes for New York State tweeted Sunday that a plan to allow visits to nursing homes is "expected this week."
WOW!!! Governor Cuomo answers question today for @AnneMcCloyNews and says that the NYSDOH is working with nursing homes to study the possibility of reopening nursing homes to families. The answer is expected this week. FINGERS CROSSED!!! @NYGovCuomo @HealthNYGov— Better Nursing Homes for New York State (@NYNHCARE) June 14, 2020
There are 38,000 people in group homes in New York. OPWDD says 2,473 have tested positive for COVID-19. 378 have died from COVID-19.
"We just want to hug him and hold him and let him know we love him again," Beverly Lillie told me at the protest.
Her son Chris is non-verbal and has autism.
He's 52 years old.
Beverly hasn't seen him in person since March 12. She says she can schedule a 30-minute visit a week in advance but she says the rule is there is no contact.
"Now when you're autistic the first thing you do is touch someone to get their attention," she said. "And if he touches us he's in quarantine for two weeks."
Brean: "What is it that you want the governor to do right now?"
Beverly Lillie: "Open up the doors and let us visit our son."
I shared the comments of the families with OPWDD.
In a statement emailed to me this afternoon, OPWDD spokeswoman Jennifer O'Sullivan wrote:
"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. 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."
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