Disability rights group wants institutions closed

By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A coalition of disability rights groups announced plans Wednesday to push Connecticut officials to close six state-run institutions, including Southbury Training School.

Representatives from the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities and other organizations said savings from the proposed closures should be used to provide residential services to an estimated 2,000 people with intellectual disabilities waiting for community housing. Some have been on the Department of Developmental Services’ waiting list for up to 20 years and have elderly caretakers.

The groups unveiled a new public relations campaign to close Southbury and five regional centers, as well as end the waiting list, by 2020. About 500 people live at the six state institutions and nearly 3,000 individuals live in privately operated homes across Connecticut.

The “2020 Campaign” comes about a month before the General Assembly convenes and considers a new two-year state budget amid deficit projections.

“We know this cause will not be easy, but we know it is a just cause, because today, while the DDS system continues to fund inefficient, discredited institutions, it is failing to serve thousands of individuals it is supposed to serve _ individuals with an equal right to DDS’ services and support,” said Shelagh McClure, who chairs the council.

The coalition pointed out a 2012 study by the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee that determined that half of all funding for 24-hour residential care is spent on public DDS programs, which care for 25 percent of the clients. In fiscal year 2010, costs at one of DDS’ regional centers averaged about $907 per day. They were $906 per day at Southbury Training School, which stopped accepting new admissions in 1986. In contrast, the cost at private intermediate care facilities was $415 per day.

The committee report determined that Connecticut’s dual system of public and private services for the developmentally disabled is costly and recommended the state eventually shift to a fully private system.

But state employee union leaders and some family members and guardians of Southbury residents oppose such a move. Martha Dwyer, whose brother Tom has lived at the Southbury Training School since 1973, contends the facility is better suited than a private sector program for her brother’s severe disabilities.

“Many of the people at Southbury feel they need that level of care,” Dwyer told reporters at Wednesday’s news conference.

Her appearance highlighted the emotion surrounding the closing of Southbury, which was built in the late 1930s and has been the subject of various legal actions over the years. A 2010 settlement required teams of experts to provide the then-441 residents and their guardians with recommendations about the best setting for the residents and help them decide whether to be placed in the community. As of Nov. 4, 319 people lived at Southbury, said Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc of Connecticut.

Jennifer Schneider of SEIU 1199, New England, which represents workers at Southbury, said the union believes a wide range of services in both the public and private sector are needed for people with disabilities.

“We encourage increasing, not narrowing, the scope of services that need to be available to those with disabilities and their families,” she said.

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