News & Politics

Karaoke For The Blind? Jewish Guild Axes Music Therapy Due To Budget Woes, Pays For Karaoke No One Can See (Part 3)


Part 3 in a series. (Part 1 is here, part 2 here.)

Despite being axed by the Jewish Guild for the Blind after working as their part-time music therapist for two decades, and despite having the organization lie to her clients that she cancelled on them, music therapist Debbie Moran is lobbying on behalf of the group.

She has started without malie a petition to “Restore Medicaid Funding for Elderly Blind.”

On the petition’s site, Moran writes:

Due to cuts in Medicaid, Guildcare in Yonkers New York has lost a vital music program which enabled seniors with blindness and dementia to sing in a special choir. The inspirational Guildcare Choir was able to remember every word despite dementia and alzheimer’s. We’re calling on Congress to stand for the poor and blind with no political clout and restore Medicaid funding to Guildcare in Yonkers NY.

But is this a good idea, given how the Guild has mismanaged its funds in recent years? It has already laid off Moran while recently paying its CEO $1.5 million, a suspsiciouly unusual salary for a non-profit of its size (not to mention the inappropriateness of a non-profit living off the government dole and paying its CEO, Alan Morse, more than the President oft the United States).

But consider this: despite axing music therapist Moran due to budget cuts, it has replaced her with karaoke…which none of the blind clients can even see. The Guild refused to answer any questions about the reasoning for this, but the decision seems to reveal a mix of spite and a profound lack of fiduciary responsibility.

“It was outrageous” Guild client Rachel Gonzalez tells us. “It was a Wednesday afternoon,” a time Moran used to come in to do music therapy, when people came in to do karaoke with the clients instead.

“They’re not bad people, they mean well,” Gonzalez says of the oblivious people who came in with a karaoke screen. But, she notes, “it was the exact same time of the week that Debbie came in…and you’re telling me you can’t pay her, but you can pay them to come in to do karaoke? How the devil am I supposed to do karaoke? Have you forgotten that half of us are blind?

“Blind people! Attempting to do karaoke! It boggles the mind,” Gonzalez bellows with a mixture of laughter, incredulous absurdity, and rage.

It was especially odd, Gonzalez says, considering that the Guild had “gathered us [recently] and asked us, ‘What kind of programming would you like? What types of activitieis do you want?”

“I had never heard them ask anything like that in my time at the Guild,” Gonzalez insists. “Never. And of course, we said, ‘Bring back Debbie! Bring back Maria!’ and…they ignored that.”

Gonzalez is referring to Maria Claro, a bilingual aide the Voice profiled in our cover story who was also laid off around the same time as the music therapist Moran. Gonzalez is sad that, without Claro’s help, many Spanish speaking clients are left in the dark.

“I try to help people,” Gonzalez says. But many tasks they need help with – reading their mail, for instance – she can’t help with. “I speak Spanish, but I can’t read their mail, either!” she laughs, darkly. “They trusted Maria to read their mail.” And, while she notes that the two bilignaul staffers “are busting their butts to help them,” they’re overworked. Plus, “You don’t want just anyone reading your mail…seeing your social security check, seeing your bank balance. You can’t just give that to anyone and they trusted Maria.”

How much is the Guild paying the karaoke team to come in with equipment most people can’t see? They refused to say. Moran’s pay was somewhere around $80 a week, quite a bargain for the services she provided to many people, especially given their 20 year history together. Is the karaoke team so much less that it justifies having them provide a useless service? As a music therapist, Moran’s work helped reach people therapeutically. She was able to sing with clients and teach them music in an aural, call-and-response manner, making the blind able to sing without reading music (or looking at a karaoke screen).

Despite all of this, Moran is just trying to gather signatures to get Medicaid funding restored to this organization without bitterness and urging people to support the Guild’s work with her seniors, which she sees as critically important. But if the Guild continues to pay its CEO a 1 percent income, pay for karaoke no one can see over music therapy, and cancel Moran out of spite, the odds of her and the clients she’s worked with for over 20 years being reunited are slim, no matter how many more government dollars roll in.

And the odds look even longer when you look at the names missing from the petition so far. Absent, of course, are most of seniors from the choir itself, who are blind, elderly and can’t easily navigate a computer screen any better than they can a karaoke machine.

And also missing is the signature of Joan Clark, the manager of the Guildcare center in Yonkers, who let Debbie Moran go while telling her that it was a simple matter of Medicaid cuts. Moran emailed her the petition, and even she — a woman who presumably knows her clients well — has refused to sign it. In January, she wrote to the Voice and to Moran when we were arranging to visit the Center (emphasis ours):

Debbie you know how I feel about working with you and not having you at the program. I am sorry but I am not able to have a story done at the program regarding financial cut back. These cuts are happening all over New York. I am sure you understand where I am coming from and it is not wholly my decision . I will continue to voice my concerns at Legislator meetings in Albany along with the Guilds presence.

Clark’s advocacy fell short of voicing much of anything. When client Rachel Gonzalez wanted to write in protest, staff at Clark’s center encouraged her not to; when Gonzalez went ahead and wrote the letter, Clark’s staff insinuated Gonzalez wasn’t mentally competent to have done so; and when it comes to personally lobbying for music therapy, Clark won’t even lend her signature to a petition.

She will, however, open up the Guild’s checkbook for karaoke for the blind.

Coming Up: A Look At How The Guild Treated a Whistle Blower the Past

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