And You Think Institutions Are Great…

And You Think Institutions are Great”

A report was released by the Department of Justice exposing human rights violations, abuse and neglect in New Lisbon and Woodbridge Developmental Centers. To the individuals who are devastated over the developmental center closures, I ask you to please consider the following:

North Jersey Developmental Center and Woodbridge Developmental Center are scheduled to close by 2017. These institutions are not closing on an uneducated fiscal whim of the governor; rather these institutions are closing because they no longer provide the best care for people with disabilities.

First, many families are concerned that their loved one will be neglected in the community  The investigation, which took place in 2003, found numerous incidents of “injuries with unidentified origins,” isolation, and untrained staff in both New Lisbon and Woodbridge Developmental Centers. Any type of aggregate care leaves gaps in the service provided; however, the rate of incidents and lack of reporting that occurred in these institutions is not the result of one mistake. Particularly in Woodbridge Developmental Center, there were 48 incidents of neglect and 53 “incidents of undetermined origins” in the course of 11 months. Those numbers may seem low; however let’s take into account the population of Woodbridge – approximately 500 residents – and the combined number of undetermined incidents and neglect (101). Looking at the report in such a manner reveals that 1 out of every 5 individuals or 20% of Woodbridge’s population experienced abuse and neglect. Is a 20% risk families of developmental center residents are willing to take when making a placement?

Second, many family members of residents are concerned that the medical needs of residents are too great to be served in the community. To this, I challenge them to examine the way in which we care for the sick who do not have developmental disabilities. There are many individuals – say those who have cancer- who have complex medical and physical needs that are served seamlessly in the community. How is a person with a developmental disability any different than an individual experiencing the obstacles of cancer treatment that confines them within the walls of developmental centers?

Lastly, I ask families to consider the history of developmental centers when they look towards the future of care for their loved one. In addition to the Department of Justice’s findings on Woodbridge and New Lisbon, a doctor from Hunterdon Developmental Center is facing criminal charges for his experimental and unauthorized treatment on residents. On a personal whim, the doctor conducted a bone disease study by giving residents heavy doses of vitamin D and performing tests over the course of two years. Unfortunately, this is not the synopsis of a science fiction film, but rather one of the “few and far between” exposed incidents of developmental centers. If the aggregate setting of developmental centers provides the utmost care for people with disabilities, then why are dozens being overlooked by the hundreds of employees in each center?

There was a time in which developmental centers were the cutting edge model of treatment and supports; however, we must not become complacent in the care we provide based upon what we know and the fear of the unknown. Community living has been able to match and provide attentive, quality care in over 13 states across the country; it is time for New Jersey to join the ranks. Developmental centers were great for their time, but their time has come and gone. New Jersey will be a great community supports provider for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: the time is now.

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