Michael Carey is a tireless man. He’s established that reputation with lawmakers and journalists, alike, as an advocate bulldogging for the rights of the mentally and physically disabled. And, it’s a position that, ironically, puts him up against the establishment originally created to do that job — the state Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
Last week, Carey took to the Capitol to push for legislation requiring mandated reporters call 911 in the case of an emergency related to disabled individuals in the charge of state or private care facilities. Though it may sound intuitive to most people, facility employees are forced to call the Justice Center in Delmar when such an emergency arises. That’s all facilities within the state of New York.
Carey’s a private citizen, whose family story is not private. He is the father of Jonathan Carey, who died ten years ago in the hands of caretakers at the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center in Niskayuna. Often times, people remember how the caretakers drove and stopped to shop for video games, while 13-year-old Jonathan was succumbing to injuries sustained from being forcibly restrained in the vehicle.
Speak with Carey, and you will need to sit down. He can spin enough yarn with details on several cases, from Buffalo to Long Island. What was done. What wasn’t done. What needs to be done. He will say, the system created to help, to protect, to care for disabled children and adults, is broken.
Regardless of where the emergency lies, or how severe, calls one would instinctively dial 911 to address go to Delmar. If someone hits their head in Lackawanna, mandated reporters call Delmar — 292 miles away. If another is lying on the floor in Elmira, a call is made to a representative 194 miles away. If someone isn’t breathing in Fredonia, the call for help goes to a voice 329 miles away. All because that “someone” is disabled and under the care of a state mandated facility.
Carey will say that’s discrimination.
We are not health care providers. We can, however, appreciate the love and kindness that often goes into caring for the mentally disabled. There are times, too, where we understand the brute physicality that is sometimes associated with keeping both patient and care provider safe. It is a demanding job, and takes a person with considerable amount of compassion and restraint.
With that said, we can’t disagree with Carey in terms that when an emergency presents itself, 911 should be called. What happens when a caregiver crosses the line and breaks the law. The matter can’t be left in the hands of the facility. It can’t be left to decide by the Justice Center. And, in order for a crime to be properly investigated for the sake of the victim, for the sake of the person in which the facility is left in charge of providing the help, care and protection, you need the proper authorities to respond as they do with any crime. To have a system in place that differs from us and what we know as a society, is the definition of discrimination.
The system may not be completely broken, but it needs to be looked at by more than just Carey. And, that’s what he’s been trying to have people do for the past ten years. The Capitol better start listening, because we’re confident Carey won’t stop.
Michael Hallisey is Managing Editor of Spotlight Newspapers.