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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Developmentally Disabled ‘Abused & Used’ At New York State Group Homes

Some of the most gripping reporting of the past year has been a special investigative series, called “Abused and Used,” done by the New York Times on the more than 2,000 group homes for the developmentally disabled in New York state.

These homes were created as a way to correct abuses in the past, but now they are where new forms of abuse and neglect are happening.

Why Were Group Homes Created?

Before 1972, the developmentally disabled were largely warehoused in huge facilities in the state. But in 1972, TV reporter Geraldo Rivera did an expose on one home, Willowbrook, with a doctor who blew the whistle on horrifying conditions there.

Rivera said, “It was horrible.  There was one attendant for perhaps 50 severely and profoundly retarded children.”

The doctor told Rivera, “The ones that we saw were the most severely and profoundly retarded, there are thousands there like that, not going to school, sitting on the ward all day, not being talked to by anyone.”

The photos of young people, crawling in their own feces, were shocking.  A class action lawsuit was filed against the state and later federal laws would be drawn up to give civil rights to the institutionalized.

New York and other states emptied their warehouses, started group homes and companies grew to run them, taking in billions of dollars in state aid. Families of the disabled felt relief, some for the first time.

Abuse At Group Homes

But a New York Times series finds that things have once again gone terribly wrong.

Reporters uncovered cases of patient abuse by low paid staffers who were transferred rather than fired, and overpaid executives who were never charged for misusing state dollars. A whistle blower describes the system as a cult. The Times describes New York state’s relationship with one care provider as a spouse caught in a bad marriage.

Their reporting has already forced changes in New York, and other states are listening in.


  • Danny Hakim, Albany bureau chief for the New York Times and series co-writer

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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