In 1979, the state placed Mark Falca -- who is profoundly intellectually disabled -- in a community-based group home.
“He had bruises and scratches on him that nobody could explain, recalled his brother Joe.
“The facility was deteriorated and the state just shut it down,” Joe added.
Mark spent the next six years living at the Woodbine Developmental Center -- a period that Joe Falca said “restored” his brother. Then, in 1985, the state convinced the Falca family that Mark would benefit from another community placement.
“They suggested that we try it, that it was now new and improved, and that they could deal with his disabilities,” Joe Falca said.
But "the same thing happened . . ." his brother said. "They were trying for force him to do things that were beyond his capabilities."
As a result, Mark stopped eating.
Now the state is closing the Woodbridge Developmental Center, where Mark has lived for 27 years, and his brother's concern about what will happen to him echoes the worries of other families at Woodbridge and North Jersey Developmental Center, both of which are slated to close within five years.
“We’ve been there twice, we’ve done it twice, the state shut the facility twice, we’re not doing it again,” Falco said.
Families and parents of the profoundly disabled have no confidence in the care their loved ones will get in group homes, which they say are more appropriate for those with milder disabilities. They are weighing a lawsuit intended to stop the state shuttering the two developmental centers. And they plan to testify at a hearing tomorrow, airing their anxieties about the staff turnover at group homes; the prospect of change for their children; harder-to-reach medical services -- and the fact that the remaining developmental centers will only be located in South Jersey.
Advocates for community placements are equally adamant.
They argue that group homes offer a better environment for the disabled, who should be given the right to live in the community like everyone else.
Many of them even go so far as to say it is a “moral” issue.
The Crux of the Argument
The families say that direct state involvement in developmental centers -- large residential institutions that specialize caring for the profoundly disabled -- deliver a higher level of care than can be guaranteed at privately run community group homes.
They also say that the higher-paid staff at developmental centers are better prepared to meet the needs of their loved ones, compared with the revolving workforce in community homes.
What's more, they worry that the emphasis on community placement could be playing a role in the state's guardianship decisions, including placing residents in group homes who would be better served in centers. And they are feeling pressure to make a decision on moving the residents far earlier than the five-year deadline announced by a state task force.
State officials respond that a system is in place to provide safe and appropriate community placements and that the overwhelming majority of the private community workforce is as skilled and dedicated as employees at state facilities.
They also affirm that the state is carefully fulfilling its duties as the guardian for some residents and that many safeguards are in place to ensure that the transition from developmental center to group home goes smoothly.
In addition, advocates for community placement said that the United States is moving away from an outdated institutional model, opting instead to integrate people with disabilities into their communities as much as possible. They emphasized the benefits of community placement, noting a growing consensus on breaking down barriers between the community and people with disabilities.
According to state officials, the licensing requirements for group homes ensures a safe environment. The state Division of Developmental Disabilities has a case manager for each resident, as well as regional staff members who work to make certain that appropriate services are provided, division spokeswoman Pam Ronan said.
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