Friday, August 27, 2010

Nassau, Suffolk removing disabled from Pa. facility

Originally published: August 20, 2010 7:13 PM
Updated: August 20, 2010 10:43 PM

Quick Summary: Nassau and Suffolk officials are removing their residents with special needs from a Pennsylvania care facility that has been the site of the deaths of two autistic Long Island men.

Nassau and Suffolk officials are removing their residents with special needs from a Pennsylvania care facility that has been the site of the deaths of two autistic Long Island men.

The Nassau Department of Social Services confirmed that it is searching for new homes for two of the people whom the agency placed at Woods Services in Langhorne, Pa.

A third Nassau resident was removed from the facility Wednesday night, county officials said.

Nassau has been using the company's services since 2000 and Suffolk has used it since 1996, officials said.

Suffolk officials said they are also trying to find new homes for the eight Suffolk children in Woods' custody.

"Nassau County Department of Social Services takes all allegations of abuse and neglect very seriously," said DSS Commissioner John Imhof. "Upon receiving information from New York State Office of Children and Family Services regarding Woods Services, DSS immediately stopped placing additional children in that facility."

Suffolk DSS Commissioner Gregory Blass said, "In light of recent tragic events, the department is taking immediate action to remove all children within our care from Woods Services."

Citing "gross incompetence, negligence and misconduct," the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare revoked Woods Services' license to operate a residential facility and prevented it from admitting any new people after the July 24 death of Bryan Nevins, 20, of Oceanside. The autistic man died after being left inside a hot van for several hours.

A Woods Services employee faces involuntary manslaughter charges in that case.

Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare spokesman Michael Race said his office is investigating the death of Nevins.

"We are working with other agencies to move the eight remaining residents to other facilities that can meet their needs," Race said.

Woods Services operates several facilities in suburban Philadelphia that provide services to about 830 clients.

Last October, Robert Percaro of Coram was killed when he ran out of the facility and was struck by several vehicles on a highway after he climbed onto an overpass and fell into traffic.

"We conducted an investigation and found no wrongdoing," Race said. "We have no evidence that would warrant reinvestigating the situation."

Woods Services spokeswoman Cheryl Kauffman said, "The Middletown Township Police Department conducted a thorough investigation of Mr. Percaro's death when it happened. Woods Services is unaware of any information which would lead the attorney to request an investigation by the Office of the District Attorney now, over nine months after the incident."

In addition, the mother of an 18-year-old Freeport woman said that an employee of Woods Services called her on May 17 to report that her daughter - who she says has the mentality of an 11-year-old and is supposed to be under constant supervision - had been found having sex with a male in a bathroom. The mother said she has not been informed of the result of any investigation into the incident.

Kauffman said the mother never was told that the 18-year-old was found having sex. In addition, she said, "Woods Services investigated the alleged incident and determined that no unusual incident or contact occurred."

With Yamiche Alcindor

Nassau and Suffolk's placement options

Nassau and Suffolk rely on several out-of-state facilities to take care of people with special needs when they cannot receive appropriate care in New York.
Nassau's Department of Social Services has placed 14 people in out-of-state programs.
Suffolk's Department of Social Services has placed 39 people in out-of-state programs.
In addition, committees on special education in Nassau have placed 41 children in out-of-state programs.
Suffolk officials could not provide information on children placed out of state by committees on special education in the county.

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