VINELAND – Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez said the closure of the Vineland Developmental Center is a legal decision, not a budget decision.
Some Democrats are framing the closure in the context of the budget, asking whether the rush is on to start the closure of the developmental center just to realize some savings in FY12.
“This is not a budget-based decision,” Velez said at a joint committee hearing into the planned closure of the center. “There’s no budget savings associated with this year at all. In fact, it actually costs us.”
She turned her attention to the U.S. Supreme Court Omstead ruling that requires a transition for the mentally disabled from institutionalized care to community-based care. The state has a “pending, but settled lawsuit” for non-compliance with the case requirements.
“This is an obligation that we have to honor, acknowledge, and advance (personal) civil rights,” Velez said. “It’s a decision that’s right and principled.”
She also claimed support from a near majority of families and patients in the center, which drew boos from the crowd, even catcalls of “lies.”
Robin Sims, president of VOR, an advocacy group for people with mental disabilities, told State Street Wire before the meeting that those opposed to the closure dispute the calculations used by the administration to reach their conclusion that “nearly half” of the residents and their families support leaving the developmental center.
Among the arguments Christie’s administration is making is that the 123-year-old center, the oldest in the state, has facility upgrade needs, a low census population, and is in a less-densely populated area than other facilities that were also examined.
Velez said the closure “not in any way, any way at all” reflects on the work of the employees of the center.