End the Debate on Institutions Once and for All

Senate Bill 2596 cleared the Senate Human Services and Senior Citizens committee with “little opposition” as reported by State Street Wire. S2596 proposes that each region — north, central, west and south — maintain one operational developmental center and that “certain factors” be considered before residents are transferred between centers.

The bill came after Senator Joseph Vitale’s participation in the DD Closure hearing last month at Montclair State University. After listening to over 6 hours and testimony and pleas from developmental center union workers, families and fearful citizens, it is no surprise that Senator Vitale sponsored such a bill.

The efforts of Vitale’s committee to completely disregard the Olmstead decision are a reflection that his interests do not align with the interests of the population that the Department of Human Services serves. His effort to maintain developmental centers does not portray the concern for human welfare (something that is generally characteristic of the Democratic Party), but rather portrays his commitment to challenge Republican politics at the expense of people with disabilities.

Vitale’s proposed bill highlights three main concerns of community living: 1) the medical needs of the resident 2) the resident’s social needs and 3) the distance between the resident of the developmental center and their family. While it is easy to be fearful of change and the unknown (in this case, the supports provided by community living), community provider agencies respond to the three challenges as follows: 1) as an accredited body, all medical needs and supports would exceed those received in developmental centers (especially provided the long history of abuse notorious with DCs.) 2) The social needs of residents are best met in the community. Each individual regardless of ability maintains the human desire for friendship and love. Individuals placed in the community will find new friendships in a comfortable home environment. 3) Community living options can be built in neighborhoods surrounding individuals’ families. The demand for affordable housing never ceases and community living will bring job opportunities and positive growth to neighborhoods.

Senator Vitale should not succumb to the pleas of his union constituents at the expenditure of people with disabilities. Equally, after listening to the concerns of developmental center’s families, Vitale should propose support services for worried families during the transition, rather than lose the opportunity to provide people with disabilities fulfilled lives in a home environment. Governor Christie asserted on March 7th that the closure of institutions will not be revisited, and continued “These [closing the institutions] are the recommendations that came out…We’ve made the decision.”

The mere suggestion that New Jersey needs to maintain one developmental center in each region is abhorrent. Keeping developmental centers open – regardless of which state they are located – undermines disability services’ progress and the basic human rights of all people, regardless of their abilities.”

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