Governor Wolf Vetoes Bill Seeking to Stop Closure of Polk Center
Why should you care?
First and foremost, it’s a social justice issue of discrimination against people with disabilities, including unnecessary segregation and isolation away from family members, friends and the community. Second, is the cost of maintaining this process while knowing that living in the community leads to better care and lives for those individuals. There are countless studies, article and scholarly reports outlining this fact.
In the 1960’s a national movement began to de-institutionalize people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With the passage of the 1990 American’s with Disabilities Act, pressure mounted to end segregation and isolation of people with disabilities.
Several states have closed all there institutions while many resist due to pressure from unions, family members and legislators. Polk State Center in Venango County and White Haven State Center in Luzerne County have approximately 306 residents while employing 1,173 state employees. On average, the cost to support those living in these state institutions is nearly $420,000 per resident per year. While the cost to provide care in the community is between $180,000 & $270,000.
“These centers are large institutions that are costly to maintain and do not promote community living. As individuals have transitioned to the community, the need for state-operated centers has declined. It should be acknowledged that closures of state centers have always been controversial. The process that the Department of Human Services has followed for state center closure announcements was established to provide for the planful transition of residents and staff and to honor agreements with the employee unions. The department has followed this announcement procedure for the last two decades. The Department fully understands the gravity of the decision to close a center and has extensive procedures in place for such closures.” Wolf wrote in his veto message.
While it is important to understand the impact on the 1,173 state employees, it pales in comparison to the injustice of segregation and isolation of the 306 citizens residing in these facilities.
The closure of these state institutions, in concert with Governor Wolf’s budget can have a significantly positive impact on the IDD community. Wolf’s budget recommends a cut of $2.88 million at Polk and White Haven as residents with intellectual disabilities move out (a multi-year process), but adds $594,000 to help them adjust to community settings. He also would reserve $5 million to help communities rebound economically from the closing of facilities like White Haven.
“All people deserve the opportunity to live among their family and peers in integrated, supportive homes. Quality home and community-based care should be the priority for the individuals we serve,” Wolf wrote in his veto message.
For people with intellectual disabilities already living in the community but waiting for services, the budget proposes an increase of $15 million. The money would remove 832 people from a waiting list of 13,000.
We applaud Governor Wolf and urge him to continue to support our community through further closures, investment in special education, reduction of the waiting list and expanding assistance for employment.
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