Today is my first day serving as Acting Commissioner of OPWDD. I want to take a moment to introduce myself and to thank you for welcoming me into this role. I have received many warm wishes since being nominated by Governor Kathy Hochul. Although I already know many family members, self-advocates, service providers and advocacy organizations through my prior work in the Governor’s office, there are many people I have yet to meet and know. I look forward to making my way across the state to meet and talk to as many of you as possible. I especially look forward to meeting the people that OPWDD supports and their families, as well as the Direct Support Professionals (DSP) who are the backbone of our system.
I am truly honored and humbled to be serving as your Acting Commissioner and I want you to know that as of today, day one, I plan to focus my full attention and energy on addressing the most pressing issue facing our service system right now – the growing workforce challenges. These challenges were significant before the pandemic and have steadily worsened since the onset of COVID-19. I know many people OPWDD supports, and their families, live in fear of losing the supports that you rely on every day, while others have already had to give up necessary and vital services. And I know that many of our DSPs work hard, day in and day out, but may feel undervalued and unappreciated. I am committed to working closely with the OPWDD stakeholder community to find solutions to this issue, so that the people OPWDD serves can access the supports and services they need and our DSPs can continue to do the work they love.
There are many other challenges facing our system today, such as increases in the number of people seeking services, the steadily growing cost of providing services, and the increasing complexity of individual support needs. Additionally, the old model for serving people is no longer working for everyone and we need to bring new and innovative ways to support and serve people into being. I know that staff at all levels are battle-weary after 18+ months of the pandemic. These are truly difficult times, but we can and will address these and all other challenges by working together.
Governor Hochul has committed to restoring faith in government. To that end, I am committed to building OPWDD’s relationships with the people we support, their families, providers, advocates and our state and legislative leaders. I know OPWDD cannot solve these issues alone and that we must work together as a community. We must step forward and think creatively to forge a new path in the wake of COVID’s damaging effects on our system. We can do more, we can do better – and I know we will.
Despite the challenges that we face as a community, I feel hopeful for the future of our system. I pledge to work tirelessly alongside you to turn adversity into opportunity. I am confident that together, we will continue to provide quality supports and services and restore New York as a national leader in supporting people with developmental disabilities as they pursue their life goals and aspirations.
In the days and months ahead, I will be engaging with as many of you as I can to hear about your lives, challenges and hopes for the future, and to partner with you to find solutions to the problems we face. I look forward to working with all of you.
Kerri E. Neifeld