Christie endorses plan to close Vineland Center day before public hearing on legislative override

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie has signed off on a pre-arranged plan to close the Vineland Developmental Center, according to a report on the state Department of Human Services website.

The report first appeared on Friday, but was removed, then restored today. It outlines plans to close the 123-year-old facility by June 30, 2013, which Christie has discussed following recommendations of a task force.

According to the website: “The Fiscal Year 2011 budget announced consolidation of Vineland Developmental Center’s (VDC) West Campus by June 2011 and the proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget contains language identifying the complete closure of VDC by June 2013. Accordingly, the Department of Human Services’ Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and VDC will immediately proceed with closure groundwork while the Legislature is reviewing and finalizing the budget.”

Some Republicans and Democrats have supported closure of one or two of the state’s developmental disabilities centers as a way to transition toward community housing facilities called for in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision.

“The proposed closure of VDC advances New Jersey’s progress toward meeting its Olmstead obligation,” according to the DHS document. “The DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has a pending lawsuit with Disability Rights NJ for non-compliance with the United States’ (U.S.) Supreme Court decision, which requires states to provide community living options and other supports to individuals with disabilities who do not require/want institutionalized care.”

It also states: “Among the 380 residents of VDC, 165 (nearly half of the residents) already have the support of their family/guardian and Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) for placement in the community.”

However, the senator who represents the district where Vineland center is located, Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), of Dennis Township,  is opposed to its closure. He has said its closure could devastate the region’s economy as center workers would lose their jobs.

At a committee hearing last week, Van Drew told  Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez that the administration lacks a comprehensive plan involving the transition plan for its seven developmental centers.

“If we are going to transition individuals from developmental centers, we must come up with a comprehensive, humane, fiscally-responsible plan for doing so that includes all seven of the state’s facilities,” he said in a statement. “The commissioner provided no valid reason as to why Vineland, among all state facilities, was targeted for closure.”

According to Christie’s plan, the VDC was targeted for several reasons, including low population density in the area, age of the facility, and the buy-in from half of the residents for a move to community care.

On Tuesday, a joint meeting of the Assembly Human Services and Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committees will convene in Vineland City Hall to hear testimony from invited speakers and members of the public on the proposed VDC closure.

As reported by State Street Wire over the weekend, speakers were turned away last week in Senate committee to speak on a bipartisan bill that would give the Legislature veto power over any closure. The decade-old bill was held at the last minute by sponsor, state Sen. Anthony Bucco, (R-25), of Boonton. Apparently, the bill needed technical tweaking, although Bucco was not available to respond to questions about the bill last Friday.

The plan for closure can found here: http://www.nj.gov/humanservices/ddd/documents/VinelandDCclosure.pdf. Christie endorses plan to close Vineland Center day before public hearing on legislative override