Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

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Protecting Individuals and Strengthening Services, OPWDD Releases One-Year Progress Report Documenting Agency Overhaul

New Safety Initiative to Install Cameras in Vehicles

ALBANY—Since last April, the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has been implementing a system-wide transformation, overhauling virtually every aspect of the agency’s operations in an ongoing effort to make the system safer for individuals with developmental disabilities and strengthen the quality of their services and supports.

This week, Commissioner Courtney Burke released her administration’s one-year progress report – reforms which coincide with a critical announcement earlier this week of Governor Cuomo’s proposed legislation to establish the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting more than 1 million people receiving services and supports from OPWDD, the Department of Health, the Office of Mental Health, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and the State Education Department.

The commissioner’s progress report outlines several key areas of improvement such as:

  • Launching a pilot program that will result in wireless video recording and global positioning system (GPS) technology in state vehicles, statewide, used to transport individuals.
  • New partnerships  with law enforcement, including the State Police, district attorneys, and more, which has resulted in:
    • The percentage of allegations of sexual abuse reported to law enforcement rising from 76% to 100%.
    • The percentage of allegations of physical abuse reported to law enforcement rising from 16% to 98%.
  • Better management practices and oversight of personnel practices, which has resulted in:
    • A reduction of overtime—which can cause fatigue—by 43%.
    • A reduction of unnecessary administrative leave by 55%.
  • Comprehensive investigations carried out by 64 certified investigators, up from 51 six months ago, who reinforce the reforms associated with OPWDD’s centralization of its investigations unit in order to ensure consistency and independence.
  • Obtaining resources in this year’s enacted state budget, which will enable OPWDD to improve the fire safety of homes it operates and certifies.
  • Keeping the state’s promise to move people out of institutional settings and develop more person-centered services that are based in the community.

“The primary focus of our first six months was ensuring the safety of individuals in our system. We achieved that through a number of initial reforms, such as raising standards for new hires, developing consistent training programs for all employees, and holding those who compromise the safety of individuals with developmental disabilities accountable. In the last six months, we have taken many additional safety measures, but focused our efforts on making these reforms work statewide and creating a stronger service delivery system that better meets the diverse needs of the people we serve,” said Commissioner Courtney Burke.

Carol Neveu of Oneida, NY, whose daughter receives supports from one of OPWDD’s regulated nonprofit providers said, “As a parent, I appreciate Commissioner Burke and OPWDD taking a firm stand that mistreatment will not be tolerated, and believe that because of her strong position, staff feel empowered to act on behalf of the individuals they serve. My family feels that the ongoing staff training is critical not only in ensuring the safety of our sons and daughters, but also in their gaining a thorough understanding of the uniqueness of each person entrusted in their care. We are active parents who participate as part of the team and encourage other parents to also do so. It’s making a difference.”      


The commissioner’s first six-month progress report outlined several initial reforms OPWDD implemented to shore up safety of the individuals receiving supports from the state and its network of nonprofit providers. Released in October 2011, those reforms included:

  • Centralizing investigations to ensure an arm’s-length approach and ensuring that all investigators are certified. OPWDD also hired a director of investigations responsible for centralized oversight of all cases.
  • Partnering with the Office of Fire Control and Prevention to ensure external controls and oversight of fire safety at group homes. Additionally, for the first time, standardizing fire safety practices at all state and nonprofit homes, including smoking policies, unannounced observations of evacuations and fire drills, and minimum requirements on fire safety training and drill reporting.
  • Strengthening hiring practices to require, for the first time, that every new employee pass a rigorous system of checks that includes mandatory drug and psychological fitness testing.
  • Ensuring for the first time that every new employee has at least a high school diploma or its equivalent, a valid driver’s license, and is cross-checked with the state’s child abuse and sex offender registries.
  • Unequivocally seeking the termination of any employee guilty of egregious abuse or neglect.

 In addition to the reforms that OPWDD has already implemented, other significant changes will occur over the next several months, which include:

  • System-wide adoption of standardized core competencies for all state and nonprofit direct care professionals.
  • Continued development and implementation of the People First Waiver, which will transform OPWDD’s service delivery system by ensuring that services are person-centered and based on an individual’s needs.
  • Sweeping regulatory changes that will promote positive relationships and the need to recognize when an individual is in crisis, significantly reducing the use of physical interventions and psychotropic drugs.

 OPWDD’s one-year progress report is available online at

Ann Hardiman, executive director of the New York State Association of Community and Residential Agencies said, “I applaud Commissioner Burke for the progress at OPWDD, especially as we move forward with systems transformation and the People First Waiver. The one-year report highlights tremendous accomplishments and direction for the future and represents the agency's commitment to open communication.”

Kirk M. Lewis, executive director of Schenectady ARC said, “For many years, private providers have partnered with OPWDD to expand and improve services for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, and we are very supportive of the commissioner’s initiatives that will improve safety and quality across the system. We look forward to continuing that partnership as the commissioner works to increase the opportunities for individual choice and reduce the number of people living in institutional settings.”

Edits Needed: 

This is an administrative note.