ALBANY, N.Y. — The parents of a 34-year-old man who died at a state-run facility for the disabled in April are urging New York lawmakers to require such facilities to report cases of abuse, neglect, medical emergencies or unexplained deaths to 911.
Christopher Blair was a resident of Valley Ridge, a state-owned and operated facility in central New York. Blair, who had developmental disabilities but no known health problems, called his mother April 8 to say he was having trouble breathing and couldn't use the bathroom. Judy Merkley, who lives north of Albany, said she immediately called her son's caregivers to summon help and was told they would check on him. He was found dead in his room the next day.
"I want to know what happened, but we've gotten no answers," Merkley told The Associated Press. Merkley said officials still haven't said whether anyone checked on Blair after her panicked phone call, and haven't offered an explanation for his death.
Merkley and her husband Stephen came to the state Capitol Tuesday to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation requiring caregivers for the disabled to call 911 in the event of medical emergencies or whenever someone is abused, neglected or found unresponsive or dead for unexplained reasons. If Blair's caregivers had called 911 when he was found it would have ensured a proper, independent investigation by local authorities, she said, rather than an internal state investigation.
Such investigations are typically handled by the agency responsible for providing the care, as well as a separate state agency known as the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. A spokeswoman for the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, which runs Valley Ridge, said a review of the circumstances surrounding Blair's death is ongoing. The agency did not respond to specific questions about the incident.
"OPWDD is deeply saddened by any loss of life in our system of services," the agency said in a statement provided by spokeswoman Jennifer O'Sullivan. "We will continue to work with the Justice Center and law enforcement to ensure that this matter is fully investigated and that any instance of wrongdoing is dealt with accordingly."
The legislation is pending in the Senate and Assembly but has not been scheduled for a vote. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year later this month.