The State Legislature has responded to an outcry from the parents and family members of individuals with developmental disabilities who reside in the State’s Developmental Centers. Currently, the Woodbridge and Totowa Centers are scheduled to be closed within the next few years. This phenomenon occurred during the ongoing struggle between the state and advocates over the future of the Vineland Developmental Center. When the Governor’s Taskforce decided that the Vineland Center would remain open, it was also decided that the Totowa and Woodbridge facilities would be closed, instead. As a result, a new struggle was born.

Recently, a joint hearing was held at Montclair State University by Assemblywoman Valerie Huttles’s Human Services Committee and Senator Joe Vitale’s Committee on Health, Senior Citizens, and Human Services. During the hearing, hundreds of witnesses testified regarding the proposed closings. Among them were family members with heart wrenching stories about the fate of their disabled loved ones who could possibly be evicted from their homes within the facilities. As a result, Huttle’s Committee introduced A-3870, a bill that would tighten rules and regulations and provide some security for the residents of such developmental Centers. Joe Vitale’s Senate Committee introduced a comparable bill, S-2596, in the Senate.

The bill requires “the Commissioner of Human Services to ensure that at least one State developmental center is retained in each of the western, northern, central, and southern regions of the state.”

According to Cindy Bartman, the President of the Hunterdon Developmental Center Parents Association, “the federal standard of care inherent in the developmental center, labled IFC/MR, is critical to the survival of our family members.”

The Assembly version of the bill has a myriad of co-sponsors, including Shavonda Sumter, Connie Wagner, Patrick Diegnan, Craig Coughlin, and Reed Gusciora. The Senate co-sponsors are Joe Vitale and Nellie Pou.

The family members of the disabled individuals demand legislative action, suggesting that the future of their loved ones is at stake. They point out that no quality of life is possible if the disabled family members are unilaterally and involuntarily separated from their homes. One of the concerns is that the residents would be transferred to facilities far away from family members. According to A-3870:

“The bill further requires that in the case of a transfer of a resident from one developmental center to another, the commissioner is to equally consider: the resident's medical needs; the resident's social needs; and the distance between the resident's family or guardian, as appropriate, and the proposed developmental center to which the resident is to be transferred, in order to permit continuation of the resident's relationship with the family or the guardian”.

This writer has indicated that the disabled population is one devoid of civil, human and due process rights. They are left with no decision-making power regarding their own lives. Unlike the non-disabled population, these individuals have been denied the right to decide where they will live, and are often separated from family members. They are the forgotten population and their quality of life appears to be immaterial to state officials.