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NAMI Calls for Investigation in New York State

Letter to Governor Says "Board and Care"
Scandal Poses "National Embarrassment"

For Immediate Release: March 27, 2001
Contact: Bob Carolla 703/524-7600
Farrell Fitch,Sciens Worldwide Communications, 202/452-6500, Ext. 11


Arlington, VA- National and state leaders of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) have called on Governor George Pataki of New York for a statewide investigation of neglect and abuse of people with mental illness in the for-profit "board and care" (adult home) industry.

The action follows a recent New York Times report of a scandal involving "assembly-line" prostate surgery on 24 residents of the Leben Home in Elmhurst, NY. The report was based in part on information provided by NAMI New York State.

"We believe that the reported conditions at the Leben Home are only the tip of the iceberg," NAMI leaders declared in a March 26th letter to the governor. "In some cases, the State of New York may even be complicit in such outrages through neglect and inaction."

Copies of the letter (attached) also were sent to the U.S. Department of Justice, New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, the chairs of key legislative committees in the NY Senate and Assembly, and U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton.

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March 26, 2001

The Honorable George E. Pataki
State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Pataki:

On behalf of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill's 220,000 members and 1200 affiliates, nationally and in New York State, we ask your immediate assistance to begin a comprehensive investigation into the neglect and abuse of people with severe mental illnesses in the state's "board and care" industry, and to seek legislative reforms aimed at improving housing and other living conditions for one of the most vulnerable segments of the state's population.

Our concern arises in part from the recent report in The New York Times ("Inquiry Finds Mentally Ill Patients Endured 'Assembly Line' Surgery," March 18, 2001) that 24 residents of the Leben Home for Adults in Elmhurst, N.Y. were subjected to prostate surgery without legitimate examinations, informed consent, or case management. Furthermore, the Leben Home, a for-profit facility with about 350 residents, has a long reported history of unsanitary conditions, ineffectual state sanctions, and bizarre incidents, including in 1993 the discovery of a decomposed body wedged behind a freezer.

We believe that the reported conditions at the Leben Home are only the tip of an iceberg. In some cases, the State of New York may even be complicit in such outrages through neglect and inaction.

In recent years, NAMI members have reported deplorable conditions at the Leben Home and other facilities to state authorities. In some cases, their concerns have been dismissed. In others, penalties, which have resulted, have been wholly ineffective. Only when complaints have been turned over to the New York Times or other media does it ever seem that such cases are taken seriously.

NAMI has compiled information concerning conditions in other adult homes in Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, which in some cases are worse than those found reported at the Leben Home. We stand ready to work with you and other state or federal authorities in mounting a comprehensive statewide investigation and effective housing reforms.

NAMI believes that sanctions and remedies in appropriate cases should include, but not be limited to, criminal prosecutions, revocations of licenses, increased fines, and mandatory establishment of family and consumer monitoring councils for every such facility.

Too often, reforms only occur in response to scandal or tragedy. The events reported at the Leben Home represent a scandal that should shock the conscience of New York State's community. We urge you to act now before additional scandals or greater tragedies are revealed, and New York becomes a national embarrassment under your administration.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Shannon
President, National Board of Directors
NAMI

Michael Silverberg
President, NAMI New York State

Louise and Neil Slater
Co-Presidents
NAMI Queens-Nassau

cc: Attorney General Eliot Spitzer

Mental Health Commissioner James Stone

The Honorable Thomas Libous
Chair, NY Senate Committee on Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities

The Honorable Martin Luster
Chair, NY Assembly Committee on Mental Health

The Honorable Kemp Hannon
Chair, NY Senate Health Committee

The Honorable Richard Gottfried
Chair, NY Assembly Health Committee

The Honorable John Bonacic
Chair, NY Senate Committee on Housing & Community Development

The Honorable Vito J. Lopez
Chair, NY Assembly Committee on Housing

The Honorable Charles Schumer
U.S. Senator

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
U.S. Senator

Mr. John Wodatch
Chief, Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice

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