Parents against ‘prison-like’ facility for autistic clients

September 12, 2021 GMT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Parents of adults with severe autism and other disabilities say New York officials are threatening to revoke funding for their children’s long-term care at out-of-state care centers unless they agree to send their children to a secure, in-state facility.

Some parents believe they have no alternative but to send their adult children to the Sunmount Developmental Center in Franklin County in the Adirondacks, the Times Union of Albany reported Sunday. They describe the facility as remote and prison-like.

A group of state lawmakers recently asked Gov. Kathy Hochul to end the policy, which they say was put in place by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an apparent cost-saving move. The lawmakers, including Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi of New York City, say the policy may violate disabled people’s right to receive care in the least restrictive setting, which was guaranteed under a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.


A 2014 state law also guaranteed due-process rights for disabled children and their families in long-term care decisions, when the child turns 21 or graduates school.

In a response Friday, the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, or the OPWDD, said a legal process prevents the agency from providing funding for out-of-state care at a certain point, and it has to direct parents to relocate their children to the Sunmount facility or risk losing funding for their care.

“OPWDD is committed to identifying appropriate services to meet every person’s needs and to creating a person-centered plan to support them in New York once they complete their education in another state,” the agency said in a statement.

A message was sent to the agency by the Times Union seeking comment about how many parents have been notified that funding for out-of-state care will be ending.

Joseph and Michele Atkinson, of Long Island, said their son, who turned 21 in April, recently graduated from an adolescent program in Canton, Massachusetts, paid for by their local school district.

The Atkinsons said they knew their son had “aged out” and would need to be placed at a New York residential program. After residential state schools declined to accept him, they said the state informed them this summer that their son could be placed at the Sunmount center or the OPWDD “may not provide funding” for his continued out-of-state care.

Michelle Atkinson said the family took a virtual tour of the Sunmount center and became worried, because it is a prison-like facility that houses disabled people who have committed serious crimes.

“They’re mixed in the general population,” she said. “These people could be housed with my son. ... This is definitely happening to others.”