MONTCLAIR – Hundreds showed up at the joint Senate Health and Senior Services and Assembly Human Services hearing at Montclair University.
At issue is the planned closure of two developmental disabilities institutions, located in Woodbridge and Totowa.
Mayors, freeholders and legislators spoke largely in support of keeping the centers open, saying the centers provide extensive care to some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, and some 2,000 jobs will be at risk.
Some said politics was behind the move to close these centers, rather than the state’s claim of wanting to provide a better quality of life to longtime center residents. One person said a center that should have been closed due to small population remained open because of a deal between “the Governor and South Jersey legislators.”
“We should not be balancing the budget on the backs of these residents,” said Passaic County Freeholder Director Terry Duffy to thunderous applause. “There has to be a better way to plug the budget.”
Some 600 residents between the two centers would be affected. Duffy said some 2,000 jobs are at risk, including the 500 in Totowa and the others in Woodbridge.
Residents would be relocated an estimated 125 miles south to the Vineland Developmental Disabilities Center, in South Jersey.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri Huttle, (D-37) of Englewood, said she was disappointed nobody from the Human Services Department appeared at the hearing, given the magnitude of the issue.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, (D-18) of South Plainfield, said he felt nothing but sorrow that a meeting like this should even have to take place.
“These centers serve some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Residents who would not be relocated at existing developmental disabilities centers would be placed in community or group homes.
New Jersey has one of the largest populations of developmentally disabled residents in large state-run centers and has been instructed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision to seek out more residential placements.
But caretakers of developmentally disabled residents said the level of care provided at community-based homes would be inferior, and nowhere near as comprehensive, as state-run developmental disabilities centers, which can provide an array of services like dermatology and dental care. The centers, unlike community homes, are required to comply with comprehensive federal guidelines. The community care facilities, however, would receive waivers.