Lawmakers scrutinize work force costs as Vineland center faces closure

VINELAND – State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Dennis Township, asked Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez Tuesday what would be the biggest factor in the estimated $30 million savings the state is expected to realize by 2014 by closing the Vineland Developmental Center.

“Why is (community care) so much less expensive,” Van Drew asked.

Velez said there is a “huge salary disparity” between state facility workers and community providers, some of which are unionized as well. “It’s a pretty wide gap,” she said. “(The state has) contracts with hundreds of (the community providers) right now.”

Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, (R-24), of Franklin Township, asked whether a “disparity in salary” meant “discrepancy in care?”

Velez said, no, and said measures are being taken to strengthen oversight on the community providers.

“Guidelines and contract requirements are very strict,” she said, including a new registry database of care providers convicted of abuse, neglect, or exploitation on a developmentally disabled individual.

While advocates of the center and proponents of its closure both spoke at Tuesday’s joint committee hearing, one man was very moving in his recollection of alleged abuse in a group community home.

Curtis Schneider, of Jackson, said his youngest daughter Marie was in five productive group homes, before one man on one shift in a small community home caused his daughter to be tied up and physically abused.

“The doctors were appalled,” Schneider said. “We could see that she was tied at her ankles and her wrists.”

Assemblyman Matt Milam, (D-1), of Vineland, asked Velez what the employee turnover rates were in community homes compared to the rates in the institutions.

Although Velez didn’t have statistics in front to her, she agreed with Milam’s characterization that group homes have a “significantly higher” turnover rate for their employees. Velez said some of the labor issues, in the past, included cost of living increases due to employees.

Milam said continuity of care for the developmentally disabled is a priority, and that the turnover puts the emotional well being of residents at stake.

One of the state-contracted managers of the community homes, The Arc of New Jersey, a group which has been at the forefront of the Olmstead enforcement push, said they have been supportive of closure, even going so far as to recommend on their website that more than one center shutter its doors.

“Does it mean that more dollars are going to you,”  Van Drew  asked The Arc of New Jersey Executive Director Thomas Baffuto.

Baffuto said someone will contract with the state to provide the beds: “You know what the answer is.”

State Sen. Diane Allen, (R-7), of Edgewater Park, asked closure advocate Lowell Arye, executive director of the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities, whether residents will receive “identical services” at community homes.

No, Arye said, because they won’t be institutionalized and given that type of care. Transition to group homes, Arye said, isn’t meant to provide the same services – “That’s not what we’re talking about” – but it will provide professional, quality care at a lower cost in line with U.S. Supreme Court guidelines.

Assemblyman Nelson Albano, (D-1), of Vineland, said, “We are never, ever going to be able to provide enough group homes to (care for) these people.”

He also called into question The Arc’s own labor practices: “There has not been a raise in over four years,” he said. Baffuto did not reply.


Lawmakers scrutinize work force costs as Vineland center faces closure