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Steve Eidelman chapter 6


Chapter 1: Early Career
Chapter 2: Tenure as Director of Mental Retardation Services in Philadelphia
Chapter 3: Growing Self-Advocacy Movement and Roland Johnson
Chapter 4: Accomplishments as Director of Mental Retardation Services in Philadelphia
Chapter 5: Tenure as Deputy Secretary of Mental Retardation for PA
Chapter 6: Accomplishments as Deputy Secretary for Mental Retardation for PA (you are here)
Chapter 7: Kennedy Foundation, National ARC and International Work

transcript - entire interview

Steve Eidelman Interview (Word)

transcript - current chapter

Chapter Six: Accomplishments as Deputy Secretary for Mental Retardation for PA

22:34:25:11 - 22:35:33:04 Lisa: So again, you were six years as Deputy Secretary. Was there a particular moment, or anything in particular that you are proudest of?

Steve: I think the thing I remember the most fondly was when Larry Pace and Nancy Thaler sort of came into my office and they showed me the draft copy of Everyday Lives -- full color, you know, mocked up, ready to go, and I thought wow, this is real, and the governor's office had signed off on it. And to me, that was the most amazing thing, that you could get something like this, some vision, out of government. I mean, this was a government document, you know. It said Robert P. Casey, Governor, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on the document. And so that was a pretty proud moment. It was like, okay, we can now take these ideas and start to put them into action, and use them as the basis for going forward. So then the day Pennhurst was finally closed, the day the last person left, the day Act 212 was signed into law by the governor, I mean those things were pretty exciting times.

22:35:35:00 - 22:37:07:10 Lisa: Anything that you had really hoped to accomplish, that you felt was left on the table?

Steve: Oh sure, I mean, first of all Western Center was a nightmare, and getting that place closed, we started on my watch, we put somebody in undercover, we arrested -- bunch of people got arrested, 22 people got fired in one day, but sort of making that happen, getting Embreeville closed, making that happen -- I mean, we started all that stuff but it certainly didn't finish. I remember one meeting in Embreeville with all the families, and saying we can't fix this place. I'm looking people in the eye, and the advocates wanted to come to the meeting. We literally locked them out of the meeting. I remember locking Judy Gran and Ilene Shane I think it was, out of the room, and this was also with the families, and the families being passionate about things. I had a second phone line at home and offered them my home number. I remember sitting in people's living rooms, from Embreeville, talking about that it was very different than Pennhurst. It was a different kind of challenging. It wasn't as contentious. It didn't involve as much litigation, and it was done under a much more planful way. Some very good people who had worked, I believe, at Selingsgrove or Laurelton came to help, and helped people transition to the community. So a very different way of doing things, but it also made me realize, government can be a force to try to do the right thing, and you can stand up to people who are trying to bully you, and some of the advocates were bullies, at times.

22:37:08:08 - 22:37:45:06 Lisa: Do you think the more planful way that those institutions were closed was a result of all of the angst around the Pennhurst culture?

Steve: Oh, I think so. I think we learned things. Again, closing Pennhurst for better or for worse taught people things, and Embreeville was done in a much better way, much more person-centered planning and a lot more choice. Western Center was perhaps more contentious than Pennhurst, didn't get the press coverage, but had some really ugly things, some families who were just doing some very ugly things -- public statements, sabotage, lying to people. It was hard, and I think again, Nancy Thaler bore the brunt of that, not me.

22:37:46:26 - 22:39:25:01 Lisa: So would you consider yourself, Steve, a leader in this movement, at least in this state?

Steve: I think part of it, yeah. I mean part of it by positional authority, you're the person in the job whose name is on the regulation from the license, and I've done other things that I think are leadership-like over time. I don't think I could have done those had I not done the stage out in Pennsylvania. And it's funny, when we moved to Philadelphia, my wife and I were trying to figure out, well where do we want to live? We knew we didn't want to stay in Ohio, that was a temporary thing. Stayed there a little less than five years, and the idea behind Philadelphia was, well, it's big enough and diverse enough that you can sort of stay there the rest of your career. That was the idea. And I was born in Philadelphia, there was some sort of draw and pull there. Well that didn't happen, and moving to Harrisburg, just I commuted for awhile and my kids were little. It was not a good thing, and then leaving Harrisburg was a hard decision, but basically a family decision. I wanted to move somewhere where I didn't have to move my kids again. My daughter was in fourth or fifth grade, my son was in kindergarten or first grade, so I wanted them to be in a place where they could grow up with sort of stability about school and friends and things, and I knew I couldn't stay in Harrisburg and do that, knew I wouldn't be reappointed, that there was some chance. I had met with Congressman Ridge, who was sort of talking about frontrunner, running for governor, but certainly did not have a commitment from him that I had support from people in the area with him, but I just didn't want to be unemployed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And I was interested in policy until the next logical step was to go to Washington.

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