From the Past to Now
STS is a state-of-the-art residential care facility for the I/DD population of Connecticut.
The Early Days
STS, built after the Great Depression as part of the national Work Projects Administration program, opened its doors in 1940.
The school, then comprised of 125 colonial-style cottages spread over 1,400 acres of farmland in Southbury, represented a pioneer vision for long-term care for I/DD people who needed constant supervision and services.
By 1969, the population at STS peaked at 2,300 residents. It was viewed as a model self-sustaining facility, attracting parents from all over the country who were seeking a safe environment for their severely disabled children.
Controversy and Challenge
In the 1970s, STS experienced a shortage of staff, which caused difficult challenges at the school.
In 1984, this led to an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) of living conditions at STS, and to a consent decree in 1986 between Connecticut and the DOJ that included termination of new admissions to STS and various actions to improve medical care and conditions. These measures were followed by passage of a law in Connecticut (inserted in an appropriations bill) prohibiting additional admissions to STS in 1986. That law is still in effect.
STS Meets Federal Mandates
Within a ten-year period, and with the oversight of a federally appointed special master, STS complied with all mandates contained in the DOJ consent decree. In 2006, STS was released from federal oversight and the federal requirement that STS not admit new residents was terminated.
Today, STS is a progressive model for long-term care solutions for I/DD individuals. It provides a group-home environment within a serene country setting, excellent care, including 24/7 nursing care, doctors on the campus or on call at all times, behavioral modification, and experienced and caring staff. It also has a modern, state-of-the-art dental clinic that provides dental services to both STS residents and to more than 500 I /DD individuals living in Connecticut.
The Waiting List and Nursing Homes
In 1986 the STS population was over 1,000.
On October 18, 2020, there were 156 aging residents still living at STS. As the population dwindles at STS, the waiting list for placement of other I/DD individuals in Connecticut continues to grow. In June 2020, the waiting list was over 2,000 individuals. Approximately 100 of these individuals are classified as "emergency", meaning they need immediate placement, and over 800 are classified as "urgent", meaning they require placement within a year. Those placements are not taking place. Some families have waited 25 years or more to find a suitable living arrangement for their loved ones, such as those available at STS. In addition, nearly 300 I/DD individuals in Connecticut are living in nursing homes, which are not staffed to provide appropriate care. Even so, new admissions at STS remain closed.
The Messier Settlement
Though STS serves as a model institution for people with severe disabilities, another lawsuit, Messier v. Southbury Training School, brought in 1996 on behalf of the residents of STS (the majority of whom opposed the lawsuit), challenged the guardians of STS residents to consider the rights of their loved ones to live within a community setting instead of being “segregated” from others by living in an “institution”, and it sought extensive additional relief. The case was settled in 2010. The settlement agreement requires that the guardians of STS residents be informed of the advantages of community homes and stipulates that guardians of STS residents be given first priority should a group home opportunity become available and they decide to move their loved ones from the stable environment at STS, regardless of the needs those on the waiting list.
Most guardians of STS residents have indicated that they prefer to keep their loved ones at STS.
STS Can be the Solution
Today, the school’s beautiful campus, modern health facilities, and cottage-style residences are contradictions to the dark image of “institutions” for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Visitors on any day are greeted with smiling, caring, and compassionate staff, clean and cheerful facilities, and comfortable home-style living conditions.
Connecticut is facing a crisis finding appropriate homes for I/DD individuals, who have the right to long-term, quality-of-life care. STS can be part of the solution to this crisis.