New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs Executive Director Denise Miranda is calling for volunteers statewide to join the Surrogate Decision-Making Committee (SDMC), the first volunteer group in the country charged with quickly making major medical decisions for people with special needs.

SDMC is called upon when a decision about medical care involving an individual receiving services is needed, individuals themselves are incapable of making the decision and there is no legal guardian to do so.  Panels are composed of a licensed health care professional, licensed NYS attorney, family member or former client or relative, and a person who has recognized expertise or demonstrated an interest in the care and treatment of individuals with a behavioral health or an intellectual disability. 

Persons interested in volunteering as a panel member need to submit an application to the Justice Center, complete training and affirm an oath of office. Volunteers serve for two-year terms and may be reappointed for additional two-year terms. Those interested should visit the SDMC web page here or contact SDMC at SDMC@justicecenter.ny.gov.

The call comes on the 30th anniversary of the permanent creation of SDMC.  The Committee officially formed in October of 1988 under Governor Mario Cuomo as a first-of-its-kind committee charged with making non-emergency major medical decisions for people with intellectual and behavioral health disabilities.  SDMC panels also have the authority to make end-of-life decisions.

 “This program provides a vital service for individuals with intellectual disabilities who lack decision-making capability,” said Ms. Miranda. “We are indebted to the panel members who volunteer their time to ensure that medical treatment decisions are made in a timely manner and are based on the best interests of the individual and reflect that person’s beliefs and values.”

SDMC was created as a pilot project in 1985, was expanded statewide in 2001, and came under the jurisdiction of the Justice Center in 2013. The committee has received more than 26,000 cases to date.  The committee is composed of 1,300 volunteers, seven of whom have served the full 30 years. Hearings are conducted in every county in the state.

Senator Robert Ortt, said: “As Chair of the NYS Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, I have seen firsthand how difficult and confusing the healthcare and treatment processes for an individual with special needs can be. Thanks to the SDMC program and the 1,300 volunteers who dedicate their time to helping those in need, the members of our disabled community will always have a voice in their healthcare.”

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther said: “I would like to thank the all the volunteers who have made the Surrogate Decision-Making Committee successful for the past 30 years, especially those seven individuals who have served since day one.  The 1,300 men and women who give their time and effort selflessly have helped countless people in our state make difficult medical decisions.  As Chair of the Assembly Mental Hygiene Committee, I will continue to do all I can to support this vital program.”

About the Justice Center

The Justice Center operates a toll-free hotline for people to report allegations of abuse, neglect, and significant incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Anyone who witnesses or suspects an act of abuse or neglect has been committed can make a report. Because the Justice Center is not a first responder, callers are directed to call 9-1-1 if there is an emergency that requires an immediate medical or police response.

The Justice Center has authority to investigate all reports of abuse and neglect in covered facilities and programs, pursue administrative sanctions against staff found responsible for misconduct, and its Special Prosecutor/Inspector General shares jurisdiction with local District Attorneys to prosecute criminal offenses involving allegations of abuse or neglect. The Justice Center notifies local district attorneys of all cases of abuse and neglect that occur in their jurisdiction.

Justice Center Individual and Family Support advocates provide guidance and information to victims, their families, personal representatives, and guardians about the reporting and investigation process, offer support during criminal court proceedings, and are available to accompany victims during interviews and court appearances.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2018     Contact: Christine Buttigieg, Director of Public Information     (518) 949-5621    christine.buttigieg@justicecenter.ny.gov