Families of residents at developmental disabilities centers suing the state

A group representing families opposed to the closure of state-run developmental disabilities centers has filed a class action lawsuit against the state,

The lawsuit, filed at the United States District Court in Newark, claims that moving residents from their current homes is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, Medicaid statutes and regulations, and their basic civil rights.

Earlier this year, the state decided to close developmental disabilities centers in North Jersey, one in Woodbridge and one in Totowa, as part of a cost-savings measure and as a way to fulfill the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmsted decision. The residents would be placed at either the community-based housing replacements or one of the other developmental disabilities centers, such as Vineland, which is more than 100 miles away from where they currently live.

“The state is interfering with professional medical judgment,” said Sam Friedman, a representative of North Jersey Developmental Center Parents Association, one of the groups suing the state. “Our family members, who for years have been deemed by their physicians and care teams to be inappropriate for community placement, are suddenly receiving bureaucratic form letters saying they are fit to move. “

Among other things, the suit states: “The defendants’ policies and procedures have interfered with or usurped the ability of plaintiffs’ treating professionals to make independent and sound professional judgments. The treating professionals are now often following a political or administrative agenda rather than accepted professional standards.”

The suit also states “These treating professionals are likely intimidated and fearful of retaliation, including the possible loss of their jobs.”

In addition, the suit claims the state has allowed the care and services at the developmental centers to deteriorate to a level that threatens the safety and welfare of all residents.

“The state is clearly not listening to us,” said Joanne St. Amand, president of the Woodbridge Developmental Center Parent Association. “The developmental centers are a community setting for our loved ones.  They are a community where medical services are available on-site, as opposed to having to call local EMTs from a group home.  They are a community where ‘active treatment plans’ are required including physical therapy and nutrition and where the medical professionals who care for them know them.”

The lawsuit adds: “The Division of Developmental Disabilities in recent months has been holding many meetings with families and making phone calls to guardians in a rushed effort to move residents out of the centers,” continued St. Amand.  “As they do so, they are purposefully not telling families of all of their options and rights for federal level of care and federally mandated services.”

“All of the residents at North Jersey and Woodbridge have a long history of demonstrated need for the services of a Developmental Center, and they have a federal right to this high-quality federal standard of care,” Friedman added.  “That is why we are bringing suit today.  As any caring parent would fight to protect his or her child or as any sibling would fight for his or her brother or sister, so we are fighting today to keep our children and our siblings healthy, happy, and alive.”

At a recent Senate committee hearing, Sen. Paul Sarlo said he fears the state in the future will regret making the decision of shutting down the two centers. Sen. Nellie Pou (D-35) of North Haledon had called for blocking the closure. However, Gov. Chris Christie supports the closure.

Families of residents at developmental disabilities centers suing the state