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State To Close 2 Centers For People With Developmental Disabilities Over Next Few Years

Matt Rourke
Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller.

Pennsylvania officials have announced plans to close two of the remaining state centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities over the next three years.

The Department of Human Services said Tuesday that public meetings will be held next month to gather comment on the plans to close the Polk State Center in Venango County in western Pennsylvania and the White Haven State Center in northeastern Pennsylvania's Luzerne County.

The Polk center currently serves 194 residents and the White Haven center serves 112 people.

Officials say the commonwealth has steadily closed most state centers since the 1960s "when best practices turned toward community-based settings and away from institutions."

Fifty years ago, the department served more than 13,000 people with intellectual disabilities in state-operated facilities, but today fewer than 720 receive care in such facilities, officials said.

“While the conditions at these centers are significantly better than they once were, they are still remnants of an old philosophy, to control residents and restrict choice,” said Department Sec. Teresa Miller. “Community based settings really make it possible for individuals with disabilities to enjoy the opportunities of an everyday life, like anyone else.”

The department, citing last year's closure of the Hamburg State Center, promised to work with residents and families, meet with potential community service providers and come up with "individualized transition plans." Officials said every Hamburg center staff member who expressed interest in continued work for the state was offered a job prior to closure or in the one-year contractual placement period afterward.

Peri Jude Radecic, CEO of Disability Rights Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the announcement was the result of "decades of movement away from institutional living in Pennsylvania." Nancy Murray, president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at ACHIEVA, also praised the decision, saying her group was "very, very happy for the hundreds of people who are currently living in state institutions that they will be able to move to community homes."

But the decision was criticized by state Rep. Gerald Mullery and Thomas Kashatus of Glen Lyon, whose daughter has been a patient at the White Haven Center for 38 years, The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader reported. Mullery, D-Newport Township, said White Haven was "the only home many of the residents have ever known," and while some argued community care would be more cost-effective "it certainly won't be the same." Kashatus said his daughter had always received excellent care at White Haven but their earlier experience with a group home wasn't as positive.

The two remaining state-run institutions are in Cambria and Snyder counties.

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