The Governor’s current policy to close New Jersey’s Developmental Center must be carefully scrutinized. At the moment, a taskforce is exploring the issue.

The “Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers,” has been formed to make recommendations regarding the possible closing of such centers. The Taskforce members were selected by Governor Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. Craig A. Domalewski of Randolph, Colin M. Newman of Pennington and Nancy R. Thaler of Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania were selected by the Governor. Allison Murphy, chief of staff for State Senator Jeff Van Drew was selected by Senate President Sweeney. Valessa Rocke Goehringer of Wenonah, a staff psychologist at the Vineland Developmental Center, was selected by Assembly Speaker Oliver.

It has been reported that the Taskforce will make recommendations based on five factors:

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“1.The number of individuals with developmental disabilities residing in a developmental center who want, or do not oppose — or whose guardians want or do not oppose — community-based housing instead, and whose care givers have recommended such a placement.

2. The present capacity of the community to provide or develop specialized services and supports to individuals with developmental disabilities.

3. The operational needs of the state Department of Human Services in meeting the needs and preferences of all affected individuals served by those residing in developmental centers.

4. The economic impact on the community in which the developmental center is located if that center were to close.

5. Projected repair and maintenance costs of the center.”

It has been suggested that developmental centers, such as the one in Vineland, have, in essence, become the home and family for it residents. It has also been suggested that closing the centers would be akin to someone kicking an individual out of their home and separating them from their family. As one member of the Taskforce has pointed out:

“Did you actually take a moment?  Think about your children being placed into foster care, your parents going to a nursing home.  Take another moment and allow the emotions of this scenario to wash over you.  I would hope that you would feel this is an injustice!  I would hope you would be angry!  I would hope you would fight to prevent this!” 

The Governor’s policy to close these centers evokes high emotions. This writer agrees that those developmentally disabled residents who elect to be placed in the community should be given the opportunity to do so. However, the Olmstead decision clearly states that it must be demonstrated that diagnostic professionals must deem that the individual can benefit from receiving services in a community setting, and it must be demonstrated that appropriate community services are available. Nevertheless, the wholesale “shut down” of the developmental centers will be a violation of the civil rights of many residents.

The decision should be made based on the needs and welfare of the individual resident, rather than on money.