Coronavirus Update: Group home residents with special needs 'forgotten' during pandemic

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Tens of thousands of people living with special needs inside small group homes in New York who haven't been able to see their loved ones believe they're the forgotten ones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, a group of lawmakers are taking action.

Dave Guerrera and his wife Mona haven't been able to hug their son Joey since March. He's 34 years old but has the mind of a 2-year-old.

"We really miss him," Dave Guerrera said. "When this first happened, he'd see me and be all excited and laugh and happy. But as these weeks have gone by, I see depression in his face, and it's not good."

They haven't been allowed to visit the group home where Joey lives with three other residents.

"He must be thinking we are horrible, like we abandoned him or something," Dave said. "I don't want him to think that."

The Guerreras live a mile away and are used to seeing their son every day and taking him out of the home on weekends, but no visitation has been allowed at any of the state's more than 7,000 group homes since March.

Plus, they're not presently included in any of the phases of reopening plans.

"We could get screened at the door, get our temperatures taken, wear masks, gloves," Mona said.

Assembly member Melissa Miller said she feels like those with special needs have been the forgotten ones during the COVID-19 crisis.

"We don't want to put them at risk in any way, but these are their families," Miller said. "Do you think their families want to put them at risk?"

She worked with a group of lawmakers to send Governor Andrew Cuomo a letter Wednesday, pleading with him to start a visitation plan for group homes.

"They're not able to resume life like the rest of the state is, it's harmful to them," Miller said. "They don't have the opportunities available to them that the rest of the state is getting to experience."

So far, there doesn't appear to be signs that visitation will be granted anytime soon.

Seven On Your Side Investigates reached to the state's Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, and a spokesperson responded, "OPWDD understands how challenging the temporary suspension of day services, home visits, and community outings has been.

The spokesperson went on to say they're "working closely with the NYS Department of Health to establish a process to safely begin returning to regular activities, including a phased-in approach to the resumption of community-based programs and visitations."

The Guerrera family hopes that happens very soon. They say a simple walk in the park or outing makes all of the difference in the world to their son.

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