* These pages constitute a repository of recent historical information and no longer concern an active suit.

Timeline and Event Photos
Avert Rolland Tragedy - Fighting Against De-institutionalization  of the residents of the Seven Hills Pediatric Center
Home | Our Mission | Informative Articles & Documents | Share Your Story | Our Stories | Informative Links

People Worth Protecting

Background & Overview

Sign Our Petition

Please go to The Petition Site and sign our petition and show the world you care.
the petition site


Home » Informative Articles & Documents » Good care knows no ideology

Informative Links About the Victims of the Rolland Lawsuit Facing Life Threatening De-institutionalization

Good care knows no ideology

Boston Globe 6/25/2007

'THE ONLY good institution is a closed institution" -- that's a common belief among many people working in the disability field. This single-minded commitment to deinstitutionalization is well-intentioned, but it is has developed into a barrier both to reliable care for retarded residents of Massachusetts and creative reuse of vast tracts of state-owned land from Baldwinville to Waltham.

The 977 retarded men and women still living in six state-run institutions are known in Department of Mental Retardation circles as "stayers." The "movers" are the roughly 8,500 DMR clients living in privately-operated group homes that often accommodate four to six residents. Another roughly 1,000 men and women with intellectual disabilities live in DMR group homes operated by state workers. All too often, policy disagreements between these groups are resolved not through consensus, but litigation.

The Fernald Development Center in Waltham is the current legal battleground between the "stayers" and the "movers." Many of the 186 people living there also have serious medical complications requiring ventilators, feeding tubes, and other devices. Their relatives and guardians praise the quality and continuity of care at Fernald, where many elderly residents have lived for decades. DMR, however, wants to move people out of the facility. The Patrick administration is even challenging the standing of federal Judge Joseph Tauro, the longtime monitor of the institution who humanely proposes that residents be allowed to remain.

Patrick's priorities emerge
The Patrick administration has stopped short of former governor Romney's call for the outright closure of these six state campuses. But the administration's views are starting to emerge, and they don't favor the future of the six institutions. "Why perpetuate that model," asks Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, the state's secretary of human services, "when people can be successfully moved and placed in smaller, community settings?"

Those will sound like fighting words to the Coalition of Families and Advocates for the Retarded, whose members argue persuasively that care is often more consistent at the state institutions, where higher salaries and better benefits result in less frequent staff turnover. For COFAR, the presence of on-site physicians and 24-hour nursing care at Fernald and other state facilities easily trumps the group home with a picket fence.

But Bigby's message is sure to be music to the ears of Massachusetts Arc (formerly the Association of Retarded Citizens) a powerful advocacy group for retarded residents in the state. It enjoys the support of the private vendors who operate roughly 2,000 group homes under contract with DMR. The director of Arc, Leo Sarkissian , argues that equal or better treatment is available in private group homes for even the most medically fragile residents. Arc estimates that keeping the six state institutions open would require $210 million in capital expenditures alone over the next 20 years, money better spent on community care.

Finding the right balance between institutional and community-based care now falls to DMR's new commissioner, Elin Howe. She refused last week to comment on the future role of the institutions or any other DMR business until she arrives here next month. Howe, the former commissioner of the New York state office of retardation, will need superior diplomatic skills. Outgoing commissioner Gerald Morrissey enjoyed the respect of both COFAR and Arc, and not even he was able to craft a compromise at Fernald agreeable to both sides.

Ample room for compromise
One thing is certain: There is plenty of land on which to accommodate the state's retarded residents. US Attorney Michael Sullivan, the court-appointed monitor in the ongoing litigation over the right of residents to remain at Fernald, surveyed the six institutions during his year long analysis of the services offered by DMR. He expressed surprise at the "vast acreage surrounding the state institutions" in a March report: 123 acres at Glavin in Shrewsbury; 54 acres at Hogan in Danvers; 400 acres at Wrentham; 588 acres at Monson in Palmer; 186 acres at Fernald; and 2,600 acres at Templeton in Baldwinville.

One good approach would be to solicit bids for the land from private housing developers, provided they agree to build group homes for the retarded on the periphery of the campuses or set aside units in their developments. These could serve the roughly 200 new DMR clients who arrive each year in need of residential services. Respite care could be offered on the grounds for use by the thousands of families who now receive only limited home-based services for their retarded relatives, or none at all. Campuses in key locations could still provide the intensive medical care needed for the most medically complicated cases.

Creative solutions would first require Arc and its supporters to stop the provocative campaign to close all of the institutions. In turn, COFAR and its supporters would need to agree on a long-range consolidation plan that leaves some campuses in place with a full array of intensive medical services while planning for the closing of others. As long as the two groups are squabbling, there is no real incentive for DMR officials and state redevelopment experts to come to the table.

Most town officials know better than to discriminate against people with disabilities. But selectmen and other elected officials are likely to resist any new housing developments on state properties. They argue that such growth places too many demands on local services, especially schools. Legislators do the bidding of local officials on such homegrown issues. But a true coalition of advocates for the retarded could counter that trend. The Patrick administration could also pitch in by appointing members who favor compromise to the lapsed Governor's Commission on Mental Retardation.

All disabilities are not created equal. The state needs both group homes that offer maximum independence and medically-intensive facilities that offer round-the-clock nursing care. The physical space is there if the Patrick administration and the advocates for the retarded can summon the will.

Online Boston Globe Version Can Be Viewed Here

Home | Our Mission | Informative Articles & Documents | Share Your Story | Our Stories | Informative Links

© 2008-2013 Seven Hills Pediatric Center Family Council
* These pages constitute a repository of recent historical information and no longer concern an active suit.