Freudian Slips: Danielle's Law and Rescue 911

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

September 20, 2005

Danielle's Law and Rescue 911

Danielle Gruskowski was a middle-aged old woman with a diagnosis of Rett’s Syndrome, who died tragically on November 5, 2002. Staff at her Edison, New Jersey group home failed to call 911 in response to a fever she had developed the previous evening. By the time staff transported her to a doctor the following morning, Danielle could not be revived. Sadly, she was pronounced dead two hours later at a local hospital. Lawmakers in New Jersey believe they can now save the lives of more disabled people like Danielle who entrust the totality of their care in others. Hence forth, Danielle’s Law became New Jersey law in 2003. Making State laws on employees who take care of human beings is complex and it will never be declared an exact science. Too often there exists extenuating circumstances that policy cannot foresee let alone outline the gray areas in training protocols. Danielle’s Law may fit this bill.
If other states in the country follow suit with similar laws, I sure hope they do not adopt New Jersey’s penalty phase. It imposes punitive fines on individuals who fail to call 911 or dillydally in making a SOS call in a life threatening emergency. The fact that we even need a law to govern human services employees to call 911 is an apocalyptic advertisement and distress signal in and of itself. People who take care of human beings should know to call 911 in a real emergency. In the rarest of incidents, if a rogue staff member fails to call 911 the gross negligence should result in termination of employment as a practical repercussion.
30:6D-5.4 Danielle’s Law violations, penalties: “A member of the staff at a facility for persons with developmental disabilities or a facility for persons with traumatic brain injury or a member of the staff at a public or private agency who violates the provisions of section 3 of this act shall be liable to a civil penalty of $5,000 for the first offense, $10,000 for the second offense, and $25,000 for the third and each subsequent offense, to be sued for and collected in a summary proceeding by the commissioner pursuant to the "Penalty Enforcement Law of 1999," P.L.1999, c.274 (C.2A:58-10 et seq.).”
You read it correctly. Danielle’s Law imposes a first time offender a whopping fine of $5000. With no intended disrespect to the Gruskowski family who lost their daughter, caring people save human lives for free and they do not want to be robbed for what might be an error in judgment. I am sensitive to the fact that this is a safeguard designed to save lives and protect the disadvantaged but the penalty is not in touch with the low paying salaries of those providing care. Five thousand dollars is to be taken out of their pocket and put into the State Treasury! Conscientious workers telephone 911 for free. If there is indeed a place for Danielle’s Law in this world, the penalty phase could be reworked and downgraded to be more in balance with the circumstance. A direct care worker earning $20,000 a year would call 911 knowing there was a $100 fine. But impose the consequence of taking 1/4 of their net annual salary over what could be a quasi judgment call regarding a human being is punishment that may not fit the crime. A second offense garners a subsequent $10,000 fine. Do we really need a second offense category in this law or a $25,000 third offense by the same employee? Its tiered layout suggests an exaggeration of isolated incidents as in the unfortunate case of Danielle Gruskowski. Does the law imply that the habitual offender is still being paid to care for the disabled after THREE incidents of failure to dial 911 in a life threatening emergency? I argue that another vocation is needed after the first offense. Employment elsewhere is the life saving measure for these disabled clients not more fines.
If direct care staff follow the letter of the law the 911 system could be flooded for the sake of saving lives and livelihood. I worry that this will actually have a reverse effect and cost the lives of others who might have needed that ambulance ride when one wasn’t available. Every petit mal seizure client who boards an ambulance four times a week is certainly going to test the patience of ambulance staff and negatively effect the client.
This law could withstand a practical amendment and it would not detract from its original intent. In addition to downgrading the penalties, the fines should be earmarked for return to this disenfranchised population. For all of the levied fines, I support rewarding the employees who excel at their caregiving jobs. Maybe we shouldn’t just kill the messenger in the blame game and recognize the heroism of the vast majority, the direct care workers who take fine care of human beings. If a reward system is not palatable to the public, how about we use the collected revenue to fund new group homes and supervised apartments for the developmentally disabled population. The waiting list for residential placement has ballooned to over 3,000 developmentally disabled people stuck in a waiting game. Any money this law generates should be returned to the disabled population and not used for any other purpose. Its return could only make the Danielle in Danielle’s Law more humane.
The day after I attended mandatory Danielle’s Law training by my employer, I found myself taking a leisurely stroll at a craft show. I wound up in front of a parked ambulance used for emergencies. I peeked my head inside the back of the idle vehicle only to find two EMT’s artistically practicing their bandaging skills among the hideaway compartments beaming of lifesaving equipment.
“Can either of you gentlemen tell me what Danielle’s Law means to you?” asked the ornery reporter in me.
"Who is Danielle?” one asked quizzically.
“I never heard of Danielle’s Law. What is it?” the other exclaimed two years after it became a law.
For what it is worth, I forwarded a letter to my Senator proposing an addendum to Danielle’s Law.



Blogger Merci said...

I have to agree. How on earth does someone get to a second or third offense? Seems to me we would do better to spend time training folks to recognize an emergency. People who have always been healthy, and young folks who don't have a lot of experience with illness, don't always recognize the turning point between ordinary and serious. And I believe we ARE seeing an enormous increase in 911 calls and incident reports.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Marcus said...

Someone was paying attention in class. Why don't you just follow-up with the Senator about working on some training of these young underpaid caregivers in recognizing "life threatening situations" or has the cart come way before the horse.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Zelda Parker said...

Way to go Joe. There is too much focus on money instead of saving lives.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

You finished reading my post before I was even done editing the final version. Now that is a reader!

that would make too much sense.

the law is just FINE to some.

8:02 AM  
Blogger honkeie2 said...

Again our government trying to save us from ourselves and going about it ass backwards to boot. It seems soo many or the greatest ideas always fall short when it comes to game time.
And as far as the EMT people are concerned, these are the people we hope will show up in time, they are over worked, under paid, and under trained. I used to date one and got see first hand how some of these Keystone cops ran. I am not saying all of them are but too many for me to be putting my life in thier hands. I would rather limp away from a car reck and hobble to the nearest hospital than have her old crew even touch me.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

You make some very good points here Joe! I agree too, with what merci said about educating people in those positions. Excellent post.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

when you don't train right you can end up the caboose.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice piece. The Law MIGHT make sense on its face; but it is now being applied to instances in which staff members fail to imediately call 911 in response to simple slip and falls, and chest colds.

Excellent point about the penalties. We are a society that pays our trashmen more than those that take care of humans.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Punitive legislature.

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now in 2009 when the trend is to get rid of group homes and direct these supports to home based programs in progams that let one hire his/her own Direct Support Workers [as they are now named/called] why is there such a need for Danielle's Law in the first place?

Charles Malvasi Jr

1:45 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Charles M.
I think the trend to depopulate institutions and place these folks in the community is about equal to every group home not developed in favor of home supports.

3:12 PM  
Blogger rszivek said...

DDD is now taking this law far out of context. DDD is now trying to force us to allow surgeries which will essentially lead to my brother being on dialysis the rest of his life. I am my brothers legal guardian, he has so many medical issues I can't begin to count. The state has no right telling us how to believe morally, religiously, or what is the best for him. Especially a pencil pusher that has met my brother maybe once or twice their entire lives.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

My understanding of the law is emergency response not enforced non-consensual surgery. Not sure how your brother's medical issues intersect with Danielle's Law but I wish you the best. Government human service workers protect endangered disabled individuals. I refrain from preachng morals or religion in the workplace. Government is certainly in our lives enough...thanks for reading. -Freudian Slips

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Update 2011 and beyond: The bigger problem with Danielle’s law is not the vague and unfair nature of it but it is the charging and enforcement methods used the Division of “Human” Services Commissioner who is being completely “ inhuman” unethical and possibly illegal in her dealing with her employees. I ask the author to follow up on Ms. Velez and what she has become since 2006, after years of unfettered power at the DHS. Even if you took just one example, just researched one, issue, one budget line item, and interview her again in relation to her position.

The latest hot topic I hear scuttling along has to do with her handling of the NJ Danielle's Law application to care givers of the developmentally disabled. Ms. Velez is the singular rule writer, rule trainer, rule interpreter, rule enforcer, and rule judge for Danielle's Law. I guess that makes her a NJ Ruler for Danielles Law, and supercedes her position of Commissioner.

Danielle's law imposes fines of $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000 for an ordinary caregiver for a violation. Ms. Velez would like her peons to think that don't blame her, blame the legislature for the law. Well we all know the only one to blame for a bad law is the enforcer of the bad law. There are so many laws on the books that are never enforced, rarely enforced, or that are fairly enforced despite being unfairly written. Ms. Velez apparently with plenty of free time on her hands chooses to unfairly enforce an unfair law that in doing so brings in these very high fines that might just add up to a significant amount of revenue her department with little or no added cost. This is because she uses her own staff to create the violation and her own staff to investigate it and her own staff to judge it and her own staff to enforce it. Who is the target for these excessive fines (NJ administrative law cases have ruled these are excessive, as she knows) the lowest paid and lowest educated employees she controls. Only the collection is left up to the NJ State Attorney general who also has no cost to enforce it because Velez the law changed to say they don't have to sue for it, if she says it's owed they can just go collect it. Even though she bothered to change and update the law she failed to add due process protections, I guess they are not as important as the fines, not as important as easy collection by the attorney general. She made sure the law stayed too vague and broad so that she has sole and absolute discretion to call any inaction a violation. She could have had this changed in the recent update but why would she cut off her own easy revenue producing stream.

Anyone needing more information on Danielle's Law or help and advice in what your rights are or finding an attorney to assist you in defending yourself against Commissioner Velez and her henchmen then please post your email to this comment section and someone will reach out to you. We are building a coalition to fight back.

The first way you can fight back is to vote against Governor Chris Christie in the NJ Governors election on Nov 5. Velez reports to Governor Christie so he is allowing this abusive governmental action in her enforcement methods on Danielle's law when HE alone can order her to stop her abuse. Email the Governor to please stop her ASAP. Then investigate if her actions are legal and ethical. If he does nothing between, now and Nov5, if he does not make a public statement to investigate or stop Velez, then simply do not vote for Governor Christie.

And fight back, go all the way to the OAL, tell the Judge your side. Don't be threatened or intimidated to sign and UNFAIR settlement. Whenever someone did bring this to the administrative law judges their fine was reduced by more than 90% even IF the Judge even felt the law was violated.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worked in DDD...two years now and have seen clients go out for picking their nose and making it bleed, or they want to go for a ride and say they have chest pain and once said out they go, with the same person going out several times a day for claim of chest pain, and several times a week.. All because she knows she can and wants to go for a ride. Unbelievable the amount of time wasted on some of these clients. Some even dial their own cell phones and go out. They pull the fire alarms and the fire trucks arrive for no reason. One boy called in a bomb scare and we went into lock down mode. Police and bomb sniffing dogs came for nothing. The squads, fireman and police may have true emergencies, while attending unreasonable calls for these clients. Why do they go out so much... Because we have to send them due to Danielle's Law and the workers terrified of a lawsuit, fines and possibly losing their job. Whe they make laws they do not think about the consequences, and this one has wasted tons of tax payers money!

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous, I enjoyed reading your perspective. Before this became a law, I would have liked to seen a pilot project evaluating the pros of human lives saved verses the potential risk of jeopardizing other people's lives in the process who might be rendered without transport.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous, I enjoyed reading your perspective. Before this became a law, I would have liked to seen a pilot project evaluating the pros of human lives saved verses the potential risk of jeopardizing other people's lives in the process who might be rendered without transport.

6:53 PM  
Blogger concerned individual said...

I am having a hard time with this law, it seems to cause undo stresses on people with Disabilities, when they do not want to go to the hospital and something simple happens but they are being forced against their rights to go and be put through unnecessary testing for the sake of somone who knows nothing about them as a person.

12:59 AM  

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