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Politics & Policy

A Bit of Good News in Pennsylvania

(Pixabay)

A bit of good news out of Pennsylvania, where I testified last Tuesday to oppose Democratic governor Tom Wolf’s decision to close Polk and White Haven State Centers, two of the four remaining large state facilities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Pennsylvania. The last time the state tried to close a facility to sate the deinstitutionalization agenda of the nonprofit community was last year, when the state closed the beautiful Hamburg State Center. Since that closure, 15 of the 80 former Hamburg residents have died.

For background, the Department of Health and Human Services in Pennsylvania announced the closures of Polk and White Haven without first notifying families at the centers of their intent to do so. In its statement, the department alluded to the “national trends” away from residential institutions as a reason to close the facilities. While the department is overstating the national trends — most states still have at least one of these facilities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — I’m immediately struck by the “If your friends jumped off a bridge . . .” rejoinder. Which is to say: The fact that other states have closed facilities — many to ill effect — is no reason Pennsylvania should close two of its centers for the most vulnerable.

More troubling still was this bit in the statement, which insists that moving residents into the “community” — the loaded term used to refer to private, dispersed group homes — is done, in the department’s telling, to “honor the inherent value of every person.”

Which raises the question: Do the families of residents served in state-operated facilities not “honor the inherent value” of their loved one with a disability?

Those who have not moved out, and who have chosen to remain at these “institutions,” are often the most grievously affected members of the disability community.

Thankfully, after the hearing on Tuesday, a proposed moratorium on the closures is circulating in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which, if enacted, would halt the administration’s abrupt and unjust decision to oppose the wishes of families and residents alike in service of its ideological prerogatives.

This is good. Indeed, the Pennsylvania House and Senate should go further and reopen admissions to the four remaining facilities for the legions on the waiting list who could potentially benefit from their services. If they don’t want or need that level of care, they don’t have to receive services there. The closure of state facilities — ones that act as a natural safety net for individuals whose profound needs lead them to fall through the cracks of private provider networks — has been a boon to many who could benefit from less-intensive-care environments, but a bane to many who have tried the community and found it wanting. Some rebalancing, I think, is in order.

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