New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli

An audit from the New York State Comptroller’s office has come down hard on the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWD), finding that it “did not provide consistent oversight and guidance” to thousands of facilities during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report included these important facts: People with IDD have a higher prevalence of comorbidities and immune dysfunction, and so are especially vulnerable in a public health emergency. “Further, congregate living poses special challenges to infection control.”

The numbers seem to support this. From March 2020 to April 5, 2022, the audit notes, OPWDD reported a total of 13,079 COVID-19 cases and 657 deaths among clients within its residential programs.

Among the key findings of the audit, covering the period from January 2019 to April 2022:

  • Less than 1% of OPWDD’s residential facilities received specific plans: OPWDD developed and issued specific COVID-19 plans to only State-operated ICFs – eight facilities that accounted for less than 1% of OPWDD’s residential clients. The remaining 6,921 facilities, which collectively account for 34,048 clients (99%), were required to create their own plans – but could have benefited from OPWDD’s expertise.
  • OPWDD did not take proactive steps: While OPWDD’s emergency management and overarching emergency planning documents considered pandemics as a risk even before the COVID-19 pandemic, OPWDD did not take proactive steps to ensure that all homes – either State- or voluntary agency-operated – had followed suit in their own emergency plan.
  • Improvements still needed: Further, there are still improvements that can be made now, before another pandemic or infection control incident, to ensure a stronger response.

The report also found that OPWDD “did not cooperate” for much of the audit.

In a response attached to the report, OPWDD writes that it “reiterates its concern with the focus and scope of this audit. … This expansive review presented challenges for OPWDD staff in the midst of the pandemic, and in some cases, unfortunately, appears to have contributed to OSC’s perceived lack of agency cooperation.”

OPWDD also noted that it “had planning documents in place prior to COVID-19, which considered the risks of a hypothetical pandemic, and commensurate evaluations were made at the onset of COVID-19. … However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented many unparalleled circumstances that could not have been reasonably foreseen.”

PLUS: NY death rate spiked 30% amid COVID’s darkest days. See top causes of death in your county (

Photo: NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli (source: State Comptroller Flickr)

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