Press Conferences Support Polk and White Haven Closure

December 2019 (updated)

Text: Community Strong

Pennsylvania Coalition for Inclusive Community held press conferences on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 in Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Watch the Philadelphia press conference recorded at Vision for Equality (Facebook)

Philadelphia Inquirer: Lawmakers mount a challenge as Pennsylvania shuts state-run facilities for intellectually disabled" 'We believe all people have the right to live in the community with the supports they need to live a full, rich life. We live in the communities we choose, have the jobs and activities we want, and have our friends, pets and families – natural or chosen,' said Laura Bale, 45, a Montgomery County resident and president of Self Advocates United as 1."

Pennsylvania Coalition for Inclusive Community opposes Senate Bill 906

The Pennsylvania Coalition for Inclusive Community supports the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services' plan to close Polk and White Haven State Centers over a three-year period and transition the residents to community settings. The Coalition is comprised of self-advocates, families and organizations, including the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, that support Community for ALL.

The Coalition for Inclusive Community strongly opposes Senate Bill 906. Senate Bill 906 calls for a moratorium on the closure of all state operated centers for people with intellectual disabilities. The fiscal note attached to the bill indicates the cost to be 1.8 billion dollars because the bill would prevent closure of any center until the waiting list is completely eliminated. Senate Bill 906 does not provide new funding for the waiting list; it would tie up funding in institutions that could instead be used to address the waiting list. Senate Bill 906 was passed in the Senate on November 18, 2019 and has now been referred for a vote on Monday, December 16, 2019 in the House Health Committee.

Based on the successful experiences of residents from the recently closed Hamburg Center, there is every reason to expect that the current residents of Polk and White Haven will have successful transitions to new homes in the community as well. Experienced teams of professionals will ensure that every resident receives a fully developed, person-centered plan that meets their physical, emotional, social, and mental health needs.

None of the current residents of Polk and White Haven will be subjected to the state's waiting lists for community supports and services. All residents will have a choice to transition to another center or be provided a consolidated waiver allowing them to have the highest level of services and supports in the community. The 13,000 individuals on the waiting list have only the choice of going to a state center or nothing currently. They have made it clear; they do not want to go to a state center, they want community services. The coalition believes that all individuals have choice; Senate Bill 906 takes that choice away.

"The members of Speaking for Ourselves oppose Senate Bill 906. We support people living in the community. We believe all people need to be free to make their own choices with the support that they need. We support the current closure plan of our Governor. I have choices by living in the community. I can hire my own staff, I can go where I want to go. I direct my life and services, no one else. Something all people should have."
– Debbie Robinson, Executive Director of Speaking for Ourselves

"We at Self Advocates United as 1 fully support the decision by the PA Department of Human services to close Polk and Whitehaven State Centers within three years. We believe all people have the right to live in the community with the supports they need to live a full, rich life. We live in the communities we choose, have the jobs and activities we want, and have our friends, pets and families - natural or chosen. We meet hundreds of self advocates each year, and of those who used to live in an institution, not one has ever said they want to go back. In fact, they tell us how they are glad to be out."
– Laura Bale, President SAU1

"My name is Latoya Maddox, I am 36 years young and am a mother of an 8-year-old boy. I have my associate degree in Behavioral Health/Human Services, a bachelor's degree in Social Work and plan to start my search on a graduate school in the near future. A little over 18 years ago I left a residential institution I lived at for approximately 10 years. I am here to tell you that if residential institutions continue to stay open then we are drowning out the 45 years of hard work we have done with getting disabled individuals out. VOTE NO on SB 906 and let's work on getting all disabled individual the right services and supports so they can live freely amongst their families and/or peers."
– Latoya Maddox, ILS Specialist Liberty Resources, Inc.

The desire among parents of children with disabilities to keep their children at home is strong in Pennsylvania. While there is a waiting list of more than 13,000 individuals in Pennsylvania who want to access supports and services in their own communities, it is important to note that these families prefer to wait, rather than put their child in an institution. "The issue is not about cost savings, but rather about a more equitable distribution of funds to better serve the most people with disabilities, and it's about people who have been denied their basic human and civil rights for decades,"
– Ned Whitehead, PA Waiting List Campaign.

The Coalition supports Pennsylvania's move away from institutional care through the closure of State Centers. It is what people with disabilities and families want. And it is the law—the Supreme Court has made clear that people with disabilities have a civil right to live in the community. Approximately 13,000 people are on the PA waiting list for community-based services, even though they could instead get institutional care. Institutional care is more expensive—on average, 3-4 people on the waiting list (with the same or similar needs as people in the institutions) could be served for the cost that PA is currently paying for the institutionalized care of 1 individual. The community is already serving people with the same level of needs as people in the State Centers. People can lead more meaningful and self-determined lives in the community with home and community-based services.

PA lags behind other states. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have closed all their institutions, and many states only have one remaining. This is because of the demand for community services over institutional services by people with disabilities and families.

Senate Bill 906 would provide a moratorium to prevent the state from closing institutions as the demand for, and census in, institutional care has been drastically decreasing. This bill will do nothing to address the waiting list and in fact will only make it worse. Requiring the state to continue its substantial and expensive investment in institutions will only lead to a longer waiting list. Pennsylvania's decision to move forward with closure is consistent with the national trend and the desire of families in PA. The Coalition is committed to working with the Commonwealth and all stakeholders to ensure that the closure is successful and that all people are well supported.

There is work to be done to address the needs of individuals with disabilities and for their families, but Senate Bill 906 is not the answer. Pennsylvania's legacy to citizens with disabilities and their families should be full and inclusive lives in the community with supports and services – not segregation.

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