A public employees union is joining the family of a 51-year-old Rome man who depends on a ventilator they say is being forced to leave his state-certified community residence with 24-hour nursing support for a nursing home because of a shortage of registered nurses.
Protesters with the Public Employees Federation gathered at Liberty and North James Streets Wednesday afternoon in support of Tony Otto, who has lived for 30 years in a residence certified by the New York state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Otto is a quadriplegic who uses a motorized wheelchair and ventilator. According to the union’s petition, his family was told that the agency can no longer support Otto’s nursing needs and they need to find a nursing home for him.
His family, including mother Barbara Destito and stepfather John Destito, say Otto has far more opportunities in the certified residence, known as a DDSO, or developmental disabilities services organization, facility and should not be forced to leave a least-restrictive setting that has been his home for much of his life and is near family and friends.
According to the union’s petition, the DDSO provides staff and a wheelchair-accessible vehicle to take Otto to family events, concerts, movies, and helps him be connected to friends and people who have worked with him for 25 years.
Now, he’ll have to move to a nursing home outside his home community, the union says.
“Tony belongs in a community setting,” said Randi DiAntonio, a social worker who has worked for OPWDD since 1999 and is vice president of the PEF.
DiAntonio said Otto lives in a group home with seven other people but is the only resident who needs 24-hour presence of a registered nurse because of his dependence on a ventilator. The home has five nurses but needs eight for proper care, and OPWDD offered his family two options, large nursing homes in the Syracuse and Rochester areas where, he’d be “just another person in a bed,” DiAntonio said.
“Right now he lives about five miles from his family. He has a sister and a brother and nephews in the area. His mom and his step dad are here. He’s got a lot of social supports around him.”
Otto and his family have appealed and were scheduled for a hearing today, she added.
OPWDD issued the following statement:
“OPWDD provides services in the safest living environment possible to thousands of people with developmental disabilities in New York State. As a person’s medical needs change there may be rare circumstances in which their needs exceed OPWDD’s ability to safely provide services, necessitating the move to a more appropriate environment for clinically necessary care. This individual is being recommended for transition to a facility better equipped to support complex needs while also ensuring there is no financial burden on the family.”
The union says it’s not an isolated situation but something happened across New York. It says OPWDD has been closing 24-hour-nursing support residences, intensive intermediate care facilities and diminishing services by outsourcing recipients to nursing homes and similar long-term-care locations.
“What Tony and his family are going through now is not an isolated situation. Inappropriate placement has been and continues to be a disservice to individuals throughout the state, especially for those without an advocate,” said PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio.
The situation is a result of short staffing at registered nurses at state facilities, the union says.
“The state has not allocated adequate funding to support nursing titles to compete with the private sector, so it is reducing the footprint of services, which is an injustice,” Jodi Nettleton, an OPWDD developmental disabilities policy developer and PEF member who cared for Otto for five years.
The union is circulating a petition regarding the situation to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers.