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Reiman's Right On Track

Reiman Supports Danielle's Law

John Stewart Mill once said that "If all mankind minus one were of one opinion mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he would be justified in silencing mankind. ("On Liberty," 1859).

The resonance of Mill utilitarianism may or may not influence the Congressional mechanisms that allow public concern to evolve into law, but there is significant meaning with regard to legislation affecting those socio-politically or even literally deprived of a voice, namely our disabled.

On November 5, 2002, a resident of the town of which I would eventually be Mayor passed away primarily as the result of procedural negligence.

Danielle Gruskowski, a young Carteret inhabitant stricken with Rett Syndrome (a neurological disorder that affects motor movements and the ability to communicate), had been placed in the care of Spectrum for Living in Edison, New Jersey.

Because the emergency protocol for special care institutions had been flimsy at best, the staff at her group home failed to identify and respond to conditions that rendered Danielle in immediate need of medical attention. As a result Danielle died.

At the time the marginally publicized event stirred the same level of sympathy as any anonymous obituary would. But as details surfaced in the press and the circumstances became startlingly clear, Danielle's death became the subject of statewide attention not dissimilar from that which Terri Schiavo has received nationally. And while the particulars surrounding that case may be debatable, those involving Danielle Gruskowski have not been; the institutional shortcomings manifested in her controversial passing have compelled activists throughout the state to demand a definitive remedy from our legislature.

As the Mayor of Carteret and an equally empathetic citizen this has become a concern of my administration.

With the relentless urging of The Family Alliance to Stop Abuse and Neglect, Danielle's mother, and innumerable adherents to the campaign, Governor James E. McGreevey signed a bill on October 26, 2003, establishing emergency guidelines for special care facilities. Danielle's Law, among other things, requires that direct care staff call 911 as a priority when developmentally disabled patients are in need of emergency medical treatment.

Ultimately the legislation provides for a structured procedure that is universal throughout state institutions, and gives parents of the disabled the reassurance that their children are better protected in the event of a medical crisis.

But the need to protect our disabled has become twofold; while the procedural flaws of our special care facilities were reproachable in the case of Danielle Gruskowski, her situation brought to light an even greater need for heightened awareness and action on our part and particularly from our legislative institutions.

As Mayor of a small hard-working town it has become all too obvious to me that the bustle and chaos that characterizes our time can displace such considerations, and that the needs of our disabled residents, who are at least as deserving of legislative protection as we are, are often forgotten. The circumstances perpetuating Danielle's Law have in fact reminded some of us that in a nation united by hallowed ideals our disabled are our compatriots, and in the blind eye of Justice our equals.

The momentum of Danielle's Law and its advocates has recently been elevated to the federal level. On October 8, 2004, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduced legislation H.R. 5320 and most recently, and on April 14, 2005, re-introduced H.R. 1649 to Congress urging that it be made federal law.

Modeled closely after that of New Jersey, Holt's proposed legislation would establish the following:

Require direct care staff who are providing health-related services to persons with developmental disabilities or traumatic brain injury to call the 911 emergency telephone service for assistance anytime one of their patients experiences a life-threatening emergency and to report the call to the appropriate State agency or department.

End Medicare funding to healthcare providers who fail to implement these regulations.

Having worked closely with those involved in making Danielle's Law a reality, I cannot stress with enough urgency the need for this federal legislation. Among the many tragic aspects of Danielle's death is that it could have been prevented with enough foresight and procedural safeguards.

Our hope as a local administration is that Congress abides by the American characteristic of learning from mistakes, and heeds what has taken place in New Jersey so that no other state should have to introduce its own Danielle's Law.

As the Mayor of Danielle Gruskowski&'s hometown I encourage our Representatives in the U.S. House and Senate to approve Danielle's Law, and hope that the people they represent will demonstrate their wisdom by supporting it.

Daniel J. Reiman
Mayor, Borough of Carteret

Robin Turner www.thefamilyalliance.net

by Robin on August 17 at 4:31 AM EST


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