ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state has agreed to pay $6 million to settle a lawsuit that accused staff at a group home of punching, kicking and spitting on disabled residents, according to a settlement filed Monday.
Staff members at the Union Avenue IRA home were accused in a lawsuit of botching medical care, denying residents food and calling the New York City facility the “Bronx Zoo.” The suit, brought by three families in 2016, said evidence of abuse went back years.
Under the settlement, the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities will give up control of residential programs at the group home to a nonprofit provider.
A law firm for the families said the settlement is believed to be one of the largest in the office’s history.
According to the lawsuit, a state official received a 2014 whistleblower letter that detailed abuse and named staff members, but none of the office’s administrators took action on the letter for weeks.
The lawsuit said one resident tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease in 2004, even though she is developmentally disabled and “legally incompetent to consent” to sexual activity.
The office said the resident contracted the disease at a sleepaway camp, the suit said.
The sister to one of the residents, Laura Kearins, issued a statement saying she hopes the group home’s residents will live happy and “fear-free lives” once control is transferred to the new provider.
“From the very top to the very bottom, OPWDD failed my sister on every level,” she said, referring to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
The state office, in a statement Monday, said proper care and treatment is their highest priority.
“This resolution will help ensure these residents receive it,” the statement said.
Ilann Maazel, lead attorney for the families, described the case in the statement as a “wake-up call for massive reform.”
“How could so many New York State employees brutalize so many people, for so long, while no staff or supervisor did a thing about it?” he said in a statement.
Ryan Tarinelli is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage in a partnership with The Associated Press for New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.