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Local petitions to improve funding for OPWDD Programs

Justin Randall, 61 at his home in Derby facility at Dansville. PHOTOS PROVIDED

By Jasmine Willis

DANSVILLE — A local woman shines light on the NYS Office for People With Developmental Disabilities crisis that has worsened in recent years.

Salome Farraro, of Dansville has been a strong advocate for her brother, Justin Randall for many decades. Randall has spent most of his life in these facilities. In recent months an unspeakable act occurred that caused her family to be sent into an outcry for justice. Due to lack of communication with those in power the family was informed via a staff member that the only home Randall knew for a decade would be closing down. Farraro reached out to multiple sources to get answers for her brother’s situation. Sadly, many who are in these conditions don’t have anyone to advocate for them.

Farraro turned to with a petition that has gained over a thousand signatures with hopes to bring awareness to what is happening at the NYS OPWDD. She sent the petition out to state and local government officials with hopes they will listen to her story. She asks for three things; better communication, more staff, and proper funding for these important facilities.

“I believe the budget has been gutted for years. There is not enough money to pay the staff what they deserve. They are caring for people in their most vulnerable conditions,” she said. “My brother was in an auto accident right before he turned 21. He suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was eligible for these services since it happened before he was 21. My brother needs help with everything.”

Randall was in a car accident in the 80s that turned him into a quadriplegic and mute. He was in a nursing home facility until 1993 when a spot opened for him at Keating Lane in Nunda. He lived there until it was changed to a non-medical residential home. From that moment his family has to decide where to send him next. Randall chose Derby in Dansville in 2012. In 2021, he was forced to move due to the facility “temporary suspension” and selected a home in Perry. A week later the Derby facility reopened and never offered the spot back to Randall or reached out to the family. During Thanksgiving 2021 the family dealt with another nightmare of Randall being selected for a relocation to a shuttered day program site. This would’ve resulted in him living in mass congregation care for an unforeseeable time. Farraro reached out to Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office director David Viggiani with an email explaining why she thought this move was catastrophic for her brother. She found out that same day the deal was called off and her brother was able to stay in Perry.

Justin Randall in his new home at IRA in Perry. PHOTOS PROVIDED

“The shortage of staff has been going on since before the pandemic. They have had this crisis for at least 10 years. There is not enough funding for these important facilities. I want them to be more transparent with the families. I know we can do so much better. They need to rethink how they are handling things with the OPWDD.”

Farraro said the timeline of events started Oct. 24 when a visit to her brother’s home at Derby resulted in a staff member informing them about the closure. On Oc. 28 Farraro reached out to Viggiani asking for better communication and suggesting that the DDSO can do better. On Nov. 1 after spending days reaching out to management and top officials the family was given a choice to relocate Randall to Southview in Wayland, Creekside in Nunda or IRA in Perry. Randall was in preparation of being told on Nov. 10 to move out by Nov. 12. He was quaretined due to Covid-19 in his new residential home during Thanksgiving. On Nov. 24 Farraro reached out again to Viggiani for answers about the possible mass congregation living situation in a day program site. Dr. Berkeley Brean has had multiple interviews regarding these problems faced at the OPWDD Programs. Farraro said she has seen the interviews, but they still leave the families wanting more answers.

“Justin was down the street from me for 10 years in Derby. He loved it there and had his own room. He didn’t like the idea of having to share a room. The Perry facility is wonderful towards my brother. He really loves it there. I think the staff there is incredible. They really took the time to get to know my brother and understand how he communicates,” she said. “My brother communicates using a spelling board. They each took the time to learn how to use it, and to get to know him. They understand what his biggest dream is to go to Australia someday. My brother had a friend in high school that was visiting from Australia. He has since passed away. But my brother has always wanted to go there.”

Farraro is advocating for better pay and benefits for the staff, more communication with the families and proper funding to keep these homes from closing down. These are her main points she has hoped to shine light on with the petition. She has since learned about 1,000s of these homes shutting down across our country. These are our most vulnerable citizens, and they need proper care. The staffing crisis needs to be addressed. The funding for these homes needs to be improved.

Justin Randall was given a signed basketball by Caledonia and Dansville students in 2016. PHOTOS PROVIDED

“Where else are these people going to go? They need to have these homes fully operational. Some of these people don’t have anyone to advocate for them. This is their home and for many of them it is all they know. It is the uprooting and extreme change that ways on the mental health,” she said. “Bottomline I just want to bring awareness to what is going on in these facilities. I think the old problems have been allowed to get out of control. The catastrophic low level of employees needs to be addressed.”

Farraro has looked for a sounding board to give her family a voice in this crisis and found a support group called NYADD on Facebook. This is a group of advocates just like her who are dealing with the same problems with their loved ones.

“I remember feeling like for the first time in a long time I wasn’t alone. I had gained more of a voice. I can speak up more for my brother in a respectful manner and shine light on what is going on,” she said. “There is a long waiting list for people to get into these homes. We need more homes for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. This is another reason why we need more staff and funding. We need to get these people into homes and the proper care. It is so hard to get your foot in the door, and we were lucky that Justin was able to get in when he did. I understand what it feels like to wait, because my brother was on that list and stuck in a nursing home. He hated being there when he was young.”

Farraro reached out through the petition on Feb. 9 to ask state and local government officials to come sit with her and Randall. They are welcome to see first-hand the importance of these homes in a person’s life.

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