On Wednesday, Feb. 13, The Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens and the Assembly Human Services Committee met jointly at Montclair State University to take public testimony on the closing of the Totowa and Woodbridge Developmental Centers. The Senate Committee was chaired by Joe Vitale
(D-Middlesex) and the Assembly Committee by Valerie Huttle (D-Bergen). Absent from the hearing were representatives from the Department of Hunan Services and the Governor’s office.
Testimony during the hearing included heart-wrenching stories from the families of people with developmental disabilities who reside in New Jersey’s developmental centers.
At least two witnesses cited Bernard White, a former State official who served as the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Human Services for 30 years. White, who is now retired and living in Florida, recently contacted several individuals, including this writer, to suggest that there is a surge in mortality rates among individuals with
developmental disabilities after being forcibly transferred from a residential center. In addition, White pointed out that transferring them to a location that was further away from other family members exacerbated the mortality rate. Furthermore, non-ambulatory individuals who were transferred experienced an even higher mortality rate.
Hearing participants suggested that these factors have not been examined or considered by State officials who are planning to close the two developmental centers. This writer has suggested that the planned closings are based on money, rather than the welfare of the residents. In addition, hearing participants have suggested that services that are provided by the developmental centers, such as medical, dental, and other health care cannot be
replicated in community settings.
It was pointed out during the hearing that the Department of Human Services was invited to the hearing, but failed to attend. The Parents and family members have repeatedly suggested that State officials have been unavailable to discuss the welfare of their disabled and vulnerable loved ones. Hopefully, this hearing will serve as a catalyst for improved communication among all parties.
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