HEALTH

One Family’s Struggle with Return Home NJ

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

Twenty-two-year-old Tyler Loftus looked lost at his arraignment in Superior Court. Diagnosed autistic, bipolar, with the mind of a 5-year-old, Tyler’s charged with making terroristic threats and unlawful possession of a weapon — a three-inch pocketknife.

When the judge asked if he had received a copy of the charges against him, Tyler said, “I don’t know sir.”

His mom, Rita O’Grady, spoke for her bewildered son.

“He’s had no day programs or psychiatric supports,” she said.

How’d he end up here? Let’s rewind: 18 months ago, Tyler lived at the Woods School in Pennsylvania, where for the prior seven years, he’d received psychiatric therapy along with other developmentally disabled patients. But the Return Home New Jersey program moved Tyler to a group home in rural Franklin Township where the staff could not control him and were not allowed to use restraints.

“A routine day is him giving them a hard time. Usually results in a 911 call. The state police respond, take him to the emergency room for an evaluation. This happens at least five times a week and sometimes it happens more than once in a day,” said O’Grady.

She says the local hospital can’t keep him.

“There was a case manager there named Mike who said, ‘We’re not Tyler’s staff. We can’t be his staff every day,’” O’Grady said.

So Tyler again goes back to the group home. For a year and a half, his mother says, she’s begged the state DDD — the Division of Developmental Disabilities — to find a place that offers psychiatric treatment and security.

“They just keep telling me that we’re investigating a possible program,” she said. “Meeting after meeting after meeting I hear the same thing but there’s never any action on their part.”

The DDD said it could not comment. Tyler’s mom says psychiatric reports note her son routinely threatens to “…hurt or kill those around him…” when he’s stressed and also has “…an interest in knives and weapons.” She says he hasn’t hurt anyone yet, but this week, police charged him with threatening a roommate.

“By holding a three-inch pocketknife in an open position above his head and threatening to slash his throat if he did not back off,” relayed Judge Stephen Rubin.

Tyler’s one of 150 developmentally disabled clients already brought back via the Return Home New Jersey program with hundreds more scheduled to return to what their families fear are uncertain circumstances. They lobbied and got a bill passed to put a moratorium on Return Home New Jersey, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it. Today in court, they offered moral support, and the judge continued the case.

“Jail is not an option, but that’s what’s happening because we are not getting the supports that we need,” said O’Grady.

By the judge’s order, Tyler Loftus will be spending the next few weeks in a state-run psychiatric hospital where he will be evaluated and hopefully officials will figure out what to do with him.