By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
Hundreds turned out at Montclair State University today to tell lawmakers, don’t close our developmental centers.
The state has seven centers that serve 2,300 severely developmentally disabled people.
In 2011, the Christie administration announced it would close the Vineland Center to save money and promote community placement in group homes.
South Jersey Sen. Jeff Van Drew objected and got legislation passed and signed setting up a task force with binding recommendation power.
In August, it ordered the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa and the Woodbridge Developmental Center closed within five years.
A joint Senate and Assembly committee heard a parade of witnesses argue that the developmental centers do good work, that 2,000 people will lose their jobs if they’re closed, that families will have to drive hours to visit their loved ones and that it’s unfair to North Jersey to close its two centers.
“It’s obvious that a political deal was done to close two centers in the northern part of the state and to leave untouched the centers in the rest of the state and this creates a huge problem for families who cannot make 100-mile distances to go and see their loved ones,” said Englewood resident Sam Friedman, the brother of a patient.
“This is the most densely populated area. It just makes no sense to close it. And you’re gonna displace all these people, all their families,” Passaic County Freeholder Pat Lepore said.
Some argued that change itself is detrimental to these patients.
“We know best for our loved ones. They are profoundly disabled and not able to tell you. We know what’s in their hearts, we know what’s in their minds. We live their life day in and day out. Listen to what we have to say since they cannot tell you,” said Cindy Bartman, Parents Association President of the Hunterdon Developmental Center.
Several said the state was trying to balance its budget on the backs of the disabled and questioned whether there is any real savings.
“So the governor is suggesting that we can move some of these individuals into the community — community placement, live in group homes or individually. Very few, if any, can live independently, so we would have to build the infrastructure for group homes,” said Sen. Joe Vitale, Human Services Committee Chairman.
The process the state set up says it has to close Totowa and then Woodbridge within five years. But the push-back at hearings like this one may make that impossible.