By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
Gov. Christie visited a group home for the developmentally disabled today. He held a kitchen table chat with several residents, and talked about taking the savings from closing developmental centers and putting that money into more group homes.
“My commitment is I want to try to lower institutionalization as much as possible and try to get more people into settings like this,” said Christie.
Last year, a task force created by the legislature made a binding recommendation to close two of the state’s large developmental centers, Woodbridge and the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa.
Then last month, hundreds turned out at a Senate hearing to protest that recommendation.
Just this week, a bill was introduced to create a new task force to reconsider the recommendation to close Woodbridge and Totowa. Christie said he has no interest in revisiting that issue.
“That’s the deal I made with the legislature last year and we’re not revisiting it just because 300 or 400 people showed up at a hearing,” he said. “I included the legislature in the process. They had appointees on that task force both the senate and assembly, along with administration officials. We worked hard, we held hearings, and these are the recommendations that came out and I have no interest in reinventing the wheel. We’ve done this once.”
The state’s seven developmental centers house 2,294 residents; 9,740 developmentally disabled clients live in group homes; 16,000 adult developmentally disabled live at home with family members.
“For many people who had put their loved one – daughter, son, sibling — in a developmental center years ago, they didn’t have any other option,” said Jennifer Velez, Commissioner of the Department Human Services.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision requires that clients be housed in the least restrictive setting.
“Each of the residents who live here have their own room, they’ve picked out the things that they like, they can watch TV when they want . They don’t live a life in an institution,” said Velez.
The governor said that “when you drive into a neighborhood, this just looks like any other house in the neighborhood, which is really important.”
Michele Sherry’s sister Denise lived in a developmental center for 27 years. “Her quality of life changed drastically because she was in a loving, supportive environment,” said Sherry.
“This is what we’ve got to strive for for all those people who believe this is their best option at having the best quality of life they can,” Christie said.