Kudos to Governor Chris Christie for showing the resolve he has brought to other issues to his proposal to close two of New Jersey’s developmental centers. As we have stated many times in this space, reducing the state’s inappropriate, damaging and, quite frankly, embarrassing over reliance on institutions as residential options for people with developmental disabilities is beyond overdue. It’s negligent.

Last time we talked about the issue here in this space I acknowledged that it would be a process. Individuals and families who only knew the institutions would find it a hard transition. Employees would be understandably worried about their futures. Lawmakers connected with those interests, and with the communities where these facilities are located, would advocate on behalf of those positions.

But as the governor said recently, the final decision is a done deal. And advocates for the civil rights of people with developmental disabilities and for rational public policy for New Jersey need to step up and support his administration as they help proponents and those worried about the change to go through the process to accomplish what absolutely must be done. The Christie administration and the state Department of Human Services have listened to all the pros and cons, established an independent task force, held hearings, in fact gone above and beyond to make this decision as fairly as possible but without losing sight on the end necessity that New Jersey must move forward with closing these outmoded, segregated institutions and move people and resources into community homes and supports.

In this space we will again discuss the facts so our readers and hopefully new readers can understand why this is absolutely necessary.

Today we’ll talk about how keeping the developmental centers open hurts everybody else.

We all know, especially after the recent economic crisis, that there are only so many public dollars available. And those public dollars have been shrinking while the need for supports for people with developmental disabilities has been rising. What to do?

Raising money means raising taxes and we all know the political viability of that strategy. Even if that were something to be put on the table it would take a lot of negotiation and deal making. It also would prompt much larger protests and more push back than those the DC families and unions have been able to muster from time to time.

The other solution is to spend what you have more wisely. That’s where closing centers comes in.

There are tens of thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities living in the community—approximately 28,000 adults registered with the state’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and an equal number or more not even known yet to DDD.  Some estimate that at least 26,000 NJ residents with developmental disabilities needing support are living with caregivers who are age 60 or older. Where are those families and other caregivers going to get the help they need to provide support for these individuals?  Where are those individuals going to get the support they need when their families can’t do it anymore?

This is the baby boomer bomb looming for people with developmental disabilities in New Jersey and across the country. An already strapped services system—where thousands statewide are receiving less support than they need or are not receiving any support, and are possibly living in somewhere they don’t want or need to be in—is going to be deluged by people in emergent need of immediate housing and support. Where is the money going to come from to address that looming crisis?

Right now DDD spends a third of its budget to support the 2,300 people currently living in the seven developmental centers. That’s just wrong. It’s not only bad public policy, it’s foolish and irresponsible.

At this point no one is talking about booting people out of a DC. For those who want to stay and can express that wish themselves, and for those whose guardians and/or legal representatives agree is the best option for them, there will be five facilities open and operating.

It’s unfair and negligent to keep more money tied up in those centers than is needed to care for people who remain there for the above reasons. New families are not choosing developmental centers. And aging families still caring for their loved ones have obviously chosen not to rely on institutions. Many that I know anguish over the prospect that their son or daughter would ever be considered for such a living arrangement.

The overwhelming majority of individuals and families looking for assistance reject the developmental centers. They want the state to ensure that they have community-based options, and that resources are more wisely spent so that they and others can have the quality community system that will only come with adequate funding.

Right now the best action we can take for the future is to strongly support the plan to close Woodbridge and North Jersey Developmental Centers.

Next time, how New Jersey’s system compares to other states and why that’s important.

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Disability in Focus