Public Law 2011, c. 143, established a "Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers." In essence the Task Force was created as the Governor’s tool for the closing of the State’s Centers for the Developmentally Disabled. Christie appointed three members to the Task Force, and Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver each appointed one member. Over the last few weeks, this writer has been contacted on several occasions by a member of the Task Force who has reported that the findings of their research have been intentionally skewed in order to support deinstitutionalization. According to the Task Force member, the closing of the Developmental Centers was pre-determined before the Task Force ever began its work.
This writer, as a Disability Policy Specialist, has always supported the right of people with developmental disabilities and their families to choose community placement. The Olmstead United States Supreme Court decision has been repeatedly reported by this writer and others with several news sources. The decision in Olmstead supports the right of an individual who is developmentally disabled to transfer to a community setting, provided that the transfer is made with the voluntary request and consent of the disabled individual. In addition, diagnostic professionals must deem that the resident can benefit from the community transfer and it must also be determined that appropriate services are available in the community. Yet, we must recognize that not every developmentally disabled resident is a candidate for community placement.
Over the past few weeks, this writer has been contacted by many family members of people with developmental disabilities, claiming that the (forced) transfer is not voluntary for everyone. Furthermore, they claim that decisions are being made on a dictatorial basis by State agencies. Many family members insist that their disabled sibling or son or daughter will be better served in the larger settings.
The Task Force member who has contacted this writer has complained about the hearings that have been held:
“The information gathered from these hearings is what the State is using as a closing template. It isn't working! The Geographical Preference survey is skewed because it does not include transfer to DC's and was mailed out without explanation to the families/ guardians after the announcement of the shuttering of Vineland Developmental Center (VDC). I had families calling staff here questioning what they should put so their person could remain at VDC. Since the individuals placed in the DC's have only known the geographic region of where their DC is located, this is the area their families/ guardians chose. With these factors alone, of course the Southern region would have the greatest amount of preferences for placement.”
In addition, the Task Force member points out that professionals who disagree with the Center closings are not allowed to testify at the hearings. Furthermore, the Task Force member also points out that the Olmstead decision is being distorted by the State. As the Task Force member indicates:
“The very right of choice that the Olmstead Act fought so hard to be recognized is being stripped away from the very agencies that are supposed to be protecting it”.
As the Task Force member also states:
“I was not even able to get that information into the minutes for the public to have an understanding why the State is still transferring consumers out when the Developmental Centers have not yet been chosen to close………….. the individualization that is the basis of the Olmstead Act is totally disregarded”
Perhaps most alarming, the Task Force member points out that:
“…IT IS (happening) TOO FAST. In the Panel's fact gathering, every expert that testified sited a slow transition process not only protected the individual's rights, but made it more palatable to community, family and guardians and ended up in a more successful transition in the continuum. As (a Developmental Center) was slotted to close, we are working with a skeleton staff (professionally speaking), we are being forced to serve two masters - we want to and are charged with the care of the individuals remaining in the Developmental Center, we want to provide our knowledge for the successful placement of those transferring into the community and we are being held responsible for training the community care staff, which again falls under the category of desiring a smooth continuum of care for those transitioning”.
The Task Force member also pointed out to this writer that the State’s deinstitutionalization movement is based on money and not quality of care. We have not yet created enough community placements, in general, let alone those that would qualify as appropriate settings that could provide the necessary care that these disabled individuals require.
It is obvious that the public is being misled on this issue by the Christie Administration.