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Pennsylvania will delay closures of two institutions for people with intellectual disabilities

Amy Sisk
90.5 WESA
The State Capitol Building in Harrisburg

The state is delaying the scheduled closures of two state centers for people with intellectual disabilities; the centers are still slated to close, but the timeline for doing so has been pushed back, state human service officials announced.

Polk State Center is in Venango County in northwest Pennsylvania, roughly 80 miles north of Pittsburgh; White Haven State Center is in Luzerne County.

The centers are slated to close Nov. 30, later than originally planned, “due to challenges with the pandemic,” state Department of Human Services officials said.

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State officials in 2019 announced they would shutter the centers as part of a long-standing push to move people out of large institutions and into more community-based settings.

Numerous disability advocacy groups have pushed for the state centers to be closed. However, family members of some people who live there, unions representing workers at the centers, and some legislators and elected officials have said the centers should remain open.

A group of families who have relatives at the centers filed a federal lawsuit over the closures in early 2020; the litigation is ongoing.

State legislators passed a bill in early 2020 that would have put a moratorium on the closures; it was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

The state has been slowly closing such institutions for decades, the result of disability advocacy for more community-based living, various court cases, and a drive to cut costs.

The state Department of Human Services said it is continuing to work with residents and their families to find new placements for them before the facilities are shuttered.

“This planning started as soon as the closure was announced and attempts to work in conjunction with families has continued in the years since and throughout the pandemic. Should families and caregivers of residents who, despite these efforts, do not to indicate a preferred placement by mid-June, the planning process will begin for those residents to be eventually transferred to Ebensburg and Selinsgrove State Centers,” said DHS spokeswoman Ali Fogarty, referring to the two remaining centers in Cambria and Snyder counties.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.