TRENTON – A lawyer testifying today before a legislative panel on developmental disabilities urged members to look at all the facts regarding potential closures of state-run institutions, rather than chase “political correctness” by transitioning to community homes.
Tom York, of York Legal Group, who said he has worked on developmental disabilities issues, said that the Olmstead decision by the federal Supreme Court doesn’t say that all patients must be moved to community homes.
“That is just completely false,” he said, adding that the wishes of a resident’s guardian must be taken into consideration.
He added that many community home proponents provide statistics that are, at best, an “apples and oranges” comparison.
“Lots of stats don’t reflect quality-of-facility,” he testified.
In his opinion, one of the biggest falsehoods is that community settings are cheaper than state institutions. He said many institutional costs, such as various kinds of therapies, are covered.
He said “high-care patients” cost much more in a community setting than in an institution.
According to York, costs were prohibitively high in states such as Texas and Georgia after they transitioned to community settings.
He said closing Vineland Developmental Center, which the Christie Administration sought to do before holding off earlier this year, would be a “mistake.” He called the Vineland center a “necessary resource,” because services are less available in the southern part of the state.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Van Drew, (D-1), Cape May asked York if there were any good role model states that provide a mix of both state institutions and community homes. York responded that he felt that Arkansas and Virginia were good models.
Van Drew said he was concerned that moving residents into the community settings could cause a problem.
“We have a backlog as it is now, yet we are looking at putting many more people in the community,” he said.
However, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, (D-6), of Voorhees, said that more and more resources are being devoted to a small population, and there are thousands of people with developmental disabilities on a waiting list.
“The facts of the court of law are not always the facts of reality,” he said. “We cannot afford to stay on the course we are on.”
Greenwald clarified that he isn’t in favor of closing state-run centers just to save money. Rather, he is in favor of finding a middle ground where there is a mix of community homes and state-run centers.
He added, “We should never keep someone institutionalized to keep a job. … Doing nothing is not the answer.”