In Firing Abusive Employees, State Drags Its Feet

Nursing home resident - Martinson & Beason, P.C.More than two years after an exposé by the New York Times and a promise for change from the governor, the employees of New York state-run group homes—facilities that care for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness—who were found to have abused residents still have their jobs.

A recent article in the New York Times details how the state has made little progress in firing employees with serious disciplinary charges. These charges included biting a patient’s ear, hitting a patient in the back of the head, knocking a patient out of a chair, and showing up to work intoxicated.

According to the Times, the state has made “no discernible progress in firing abusive and derelict workers. Not counting workers ultimately cleared of all disciplinary charges, the state still manages to fire only about a quarter of those recommended for job termination, a rate that has not budged.”

Why haven’t these employees been fired? The road to job termination for these state employees is a long one. First, an internal disciplinary inquiry occurs following allegations made against an employee. This inquiry may recommend that the employee be fired. However, an employee represented by the union has the right to challenge the firing before an arbitrator. The arbitrator ultimately decides whether to uphold or reject the charges or impose lesser punishment.

The article cites the “wide latitude” given to arbitrators, who have a history of siding with the union, as one reason for the low rate of firing.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, in 2011, announced that the administration would work with the union to create an agreement of mandatory punishments for certain offenses. But years later, the administration and union haven’t been able to come to an agreement.

A union proposal obtained by the Times indicates that the union wants to continue to give arbitrators wide latitude, without requiring termination of many of those who have committed physical abuse or sexual misconduct.

Stephen Madaraz, spokesperson for the Civil Service Employees Association, stated of the proposal, “With regard to the issue of arbitrators having discretion on disciplinary penalties, it is a practical reality for resolving cases. Most cases have nuance.”

Though progress has not been made in firing abusive employees, the Cuomo administration has at least taken other steps to protect residents. Private providers are now required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law. The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, an agency championed by Cuomo, has made small increases in the number of state investigators.

Vulnerable adults, whether they are the elderly or those with developmental disabilities, deserve respect, dignity, and care, and it is a travesty that abusive workers are allowed to continue their employment.

If you suspect that a loved one is suffering abuse in a nursing home or group home, please don’t hesitate to report the abuse with Alabama Adult Protective Services and, if necessary, contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney.