March 7, 2011
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Announces New Leadership for State Agencies that Serve Disabled New Yorkers

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the nominations of Courtney Burke as Commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) and Roger Bearden as Chair of the Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (CQCAPD). The Governor also announced that Clarence J. Sundram will serve as Special Advisor on Vulnerable Persons.


Courtney Burke is director of the Rockefeller Institute's New York State Health Policy Research Center, where she oversees all health policy research projects at the Institute and is the project director for the Institute's recent research on county variations in Medicaid long-term care. The Rockefeller Institute is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York. Ms. Burke previously worked for six years as the senior research scientist in the health and Medicaid studies program at the Institute. Her research focuses primarily on health policy issues related to Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), health reform and private insurance coverage. She also has written about nonprofit organizations' dependence on Medicaid funding and the effects of the state fiscal crises on nonprofits.


Prior to joining the Institute, Ms. Burke was employed by the New York State Office of Advocate for Persons with Disabilities for several years, including as the senior policy analyst, and by the New York State Department of Health. She was named one of The Business Review's (Capital Region) "40 Under Forty" honorees for 2010.


Roger Bearden is the Director of the Disability Law Center of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in New York City, where he supervises project directors and program staff and serves as lead attorney on major law reform cases, including cases seeking community integration for persons with mental illness in nursing homes and adult homes.


From March to August 2009, Mr. Bearden was Chief Health Counsel to New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane, then serving as Chair of the Senate Health Committee. In that role, Mr. Bearden led Senate staff negotiations on the Family Health Care Decisions Act, which allows family members or other surrogates to make major medical decisions for incapacitated individuals who did not previously designate a health care agent or provide instructions.


Previously, Mr. Bearden was a staff attorney with Disability Advocates, Inc., a nonprofit law firm in Albany, where he advocated and litigated on behalf of thousands of individuals with mental illness and other disabilities in some of the largest and most complex federal cases in the field. Mr. Bearden graduated from Brown University and Harvard Law School before clerking for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.


Clarence Sundram is the leading national expert on the provision of care to developmentally disabled persons and other vulnerable people. He was the first Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Commission on Quality of Care, the predecessor to CQCAPD, a position in which he served for twenty years, from 1978 to 1998. Previously, Mr. Sundram served as Assistant Counsel to Governor Hugh L. Carey. Mr. Sundram serves as a special master to a federal district court in Washington, D.C. supervising the implementation of court orders affecting former residents of public institutions for persons with mental disabilities, and previously served in the same capacity to a federal district court in Maine.


As Special Advisor on Vulnerable Persons, Mr. Sundram will evaluate and provide recommendations to the Governor concerning State programs related to developmental disabilities, mental health, alcohol and substance abuse, children, and the elderly. As part of his duties, Mr. Sundram will evaluate the protection, safety, and quality of care of vulnerable persons, the conditions of related State operated and licensed facilities, and the fiscal performance of related programs. Mr. Sundram's initial task will be to review the operations of CQCAPD, which has monitoring and oversight responsibilities with respect to the quality of care and fiscal performance of programs and facilities operated or licensed by OPWDD, the Office of Mental Health (OMH), and the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS).


Mr. Sundram will also coordinate with the Governor's Spending and Government Efficiency Commission (SAGE Commission) to evaluate and provide recommendations concerning the management, design, and structure of state agencies operating or overseeing programs or facilities for vulnerable persons.


Governor Cuomo said, "This is a top-tier team that will bring fresh leadership and vision to these critical agencies. It is our fundamental responsibility as government to care for the most vulnerable among us. I look forward to working with this team to bring real reform and results to affected New Yorkers and their families."


New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane said, "With his broad background in civil rights, disability rights, and health law and his passion for social justice, Roger Bearden will make an exceptional chair of the New York State Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. I was pleased to have Roger serve as my Counsel to the New York State Senate Health Committee and I applaud Governor Cuomo for nominating him to this critical post."


New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services Executive Director Harvey Rosenthal said, "We are really excited and impressed with this truly phenomenal group of candidates. Courtney Burke is a respected expert in the field who will bring her considerable talents to OPWDD. Roger Bearden has a long career of working to advance the rights and needs of New Yorkers with disabilities and he will do a wonderful job at the CQCAPD. Clarence Sundram is a legend and choosing him for this new role is an extraordinary gift for New York. Mr. Sundram is an international leader in advancing policies that improve the quality of life and the rights of people with disabilities."


New York State Association of Community Residential Programs Executive Director Ann Hardiman said, "I applaud Governor Cuomo for his excellent selections and his clear commitment to serving New Yorkers with disabilities. Clarence Sundram is a familiar and welcome addition to Governor Cuomo's team and he will be fantastic in his position. Roger Bearden comes from a highly effective advocacy background and will bring a fresh perspective to CQCAPD. Courtney Burke has the experience and background needed to effectively guide the OPWDD. I am excited at the opportunity to work with Ms. Burke and I look forward to effective collaboration to address the needs of all New Yorkers with developmental disabilities."


NYSARC, Inc. Executive Director Marc Brandt said, Clarence Sundram is a well-known figure to our field and is highly respected. He has a long history of strong advocacy on behalf of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in New York State and around the nation. We applaud the Governor for his leadership and we welcome the attention being given to the important role of government oversight in regard to vulnerable populations. We are pleased by the Governors nomination of Roger Bearden and Courtney Burke. CQCAPD and OPWDD will benefit from their considerable experience, knowledge, and energy to help our state. NYSARC Inc., as the nations largest family-governed not-for-profit organization serving individuals with developmental disabilities, applauds Governor Cuomo for making these nominations. We anticipate working with these new leaders and see the Governors nominations as an important step in renewing the partnership among families, individuals with disabilities, not-for-profit agencies and State government.


Legal Director of the Judge Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law Ira Burnim said, "I commend Governor Cuomo for choosing this highly respected group of individuals. Clarence Sundram, Roger Bearden, and Courtney Burke are leaders in their fields whose energy and expertise will benefit New York. These selections indicate Governor Cuomo's strong commitment to serving people in need and demonstrate that issues related to mental health are a priority for his administration."


New Horizons Executive Director and Chair of the CQCAPD Advisory Council Regis Obijiski said, "Clarence Sundram is a brilliant and indefatigable advocate for people with disabilities. He understands human nature and systems of services offered through the government and privately with great acumen. Mr. Sundram believes very strongly in the necessity of a watchdog for the rights of vulnerable citizens in New York and worldwide. There is no better or more principled person for a position such as this."