Fred D’Amico loved spending time at Atlas Park, catching a movie and dining at California Pizza. But the Glendale site was the backdrop of a more solemn occasion on Friday, as elected officials and family members gathered in front of D’Amico’s favorite movie theater to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that will bear the late Glendale resident’s name.
“Fred’s Law,” as it will be called if Cuomo enacts the legislation, would require hospitals to allow patients with disabilities to have one caretaker advocate for them in the hospital during a pandemic or other emergency.
On March 27, 2020, Fred D’Amico, who had Asperger’s, was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital on Long Island by his family members. But the D’Amicos were stopped at the door and forced to leave Fred in the hospital, alone.
That was the last time they saw him. Restrictions, imposed as a result of the pandemic, prevented the 30-year-old from having anyone accompany him, despite his inability to communicate. Fred D’Amico passed away from the COVID-19 virus four days later.
“We’ve all heard many stories about COVID, but few are as heartbreaking as the D’Amico’s story, because it’s one that could have been avoided,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., who drafted the bill after hearing about Fred’s death.
Addabbo said he was struck by the tenacity of the family and their strength in the wake of their tragedy.
“The family stayed in the parking lot praying and calling the hospital to check on Fred, because that’s what a caring family does,” the senator stressed. “But you know what they were told? That they were calling too much. Really? We have a lot to learn from this COVID crisis and this law will be a start.”
The bill has already passed both the Senate and Assembly with overwhelming support.
“We are here today to respectfully ask the governor, when it gets to his desk, to sign it as soon as possible so we can help those who cannot communicate and advocate for themselves,” Addabbo added.
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, who sponsored Fred’s Law in the Assembly, said it’s not often that you get the opportunity to bring forth a bill that will change lives.
“This was a no-brainer, not only as an assemblywoman but as a mother,” she said. “It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Pheffer Amato, a former paraprofessional for the Department of Education, said she knows firsthand how important it is for a person with special needs to depend on his or her “person.”
“I’ve had calls from so many parents supporting this bill,” she said. “I’ve had colleagues come up to me one by one to support it, too, and sometimes it’s not easy to get colleagues to support an issue. This was not hard at all.”
“This law makes logical sense,” noted Assemblywoman Jenifer Rakumar. “Research shows that family members can provide information to help health care workers form a medical decision.
“Last March the governor signed an executive order similar to the principle of our bill, which allowed one support person to be in the hospital with a pregnant woman in labor,” she added. “Logic follows that people with special needs need someone also.”
A year after Fred’s death, family members say they still feel the frustration and heartbreak of leaving their loved one alone when he needed them most.
“I will never forget the feeling of trying to call and text and getting no response,” said Fred’s brother, John D’Amico Jr. “We can’t tell you how much we appreciate all of your support.”
Maria D’Amico found it difficult to speak through her tears.
“This bill is going to make the difference so no one has to be alone in the hospital and no family will have to suffer the pain that we are suffering every day,” she said. “Please Governor Cuomo, sign this bill. For every parent, please sign it.”