By Martha Dwyer, Tamie Hopp | Op-Ed February 20, 2015
Would refurbishing Southbury Training School make sense? There is a crisis in the care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Connecticut. At least 2,000 individuals who are living with their families are on the waiting list for placement in a residence, many for more than 20 years and many in desperate situations. Many people believe that closing Southbury Training School and the state regional centers and moving residents to four-person (or smaller) group homes will free up funds to enable individuals on the waiting list to be placed in residences. This is incorrect and will create more problems than it will solve. Connecticut's problems are considerable and tragic, and they should be addressed by a comprehensive plan. The numbers don't add up. There are approximately 313 individuals at Southbury and 191 at regional centers. At least 125 new group homes would have to be renovated and staffed to provide highly specialized services for these individuals. Moving a resident of Southbury to the community generally takes one to two years, and this during periods when only a few residents are moved at a time. To move 500 people would take years and a huge amount of money. Residents at Southbury and regional centers have been given priority over people on the waiting list for years and that would have to continue indefinitely to close Southbury and the regional centers. That would help no one on the waiting list for many years. Moreover, this plan unconscionably displaces extremely disabled individuals who already receive excellent, and in many cases otherwise unavailable, services without creating an equal benefit. Seventy-eight percent of Southbury residents have severe or profound intellectual disabilities, the vast majority have significant functional disabilities (a majority need help walking, eating, toileting, or dressing), and 83 percent have additional disabilities such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, epilepsy or mental illness. It is very expensive to provide adequate care to these individuals. The fact that these individuals have called Southbury and the regional centers their homes for 30 to 50 years is not even being mentioned. Nor is the fact that they do not live in a segregated environment but interact on a frequent basis, to the extent they physically and intellectually can, with people in the community. They will be moved from their familiar surroundings and they will be exposed to a smaller group of unfamiliar people. Most of the highly skilled caregivers at Southbury have been working there for well over 10 years. Staff turnover at group homes is considerably higher and workers far less qualified. In addition, group homes have not received an increase in funding for many years and are hurting. Staff salaries have remained low and many high-level employees have not received a raise for years. Closing Southbury and the regional centers will not provide the necessary funds to address this, now or in the long run. There is a better, more comprehensive solution that no one is talking about: Open Southbury and the regional centers for future placements and use Southbury for outpatient services and skilled nursing care for aged members of this population and respite services for families. Repairing and reopening cottages on the Southbury campus and using available regional center beds would be less expensive and faster than seeking homes in the community for individuals on the waiting list. Only Southbury can provide all of the services listed above. Southbury is located on a beautiful campus and has excellent staff. The state should expand the sophisticated medical, dental and psychiatric facilities already in use at Southbury and make them available to people on the waiting list and in the community. It would make more sense to use the facilities the state already owns, and thereby bring down individual costs, than to waste this beautiful resource. We believe this would save money and improve service throughout the state. Any proposal with respect to Southbury, the regional centers or the waiting list should receive scrupulous financial analysis before it is adopted. Federal law, including Olmstead and Medicaid, expressly requires choice among a full range of services — home, apartments, community facilities or congregate facilities — both for residents of Southbury, who have had the opportunity to make a choice, and for other disabled individuals. Take another look at all Southbury has to offer. Southbury is a ready, compassionate solution centered on meeting people's true needs, not a numbers game that simply does not add up. Martha Dwyer is president of the nonprofit Home and School Association of the Southbury Training School. Tamie Hopp is director of government relations and advocacy for VOR, a nonprofit that represents primarily individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families/guardians.
Comments from Courant Readers
Connie O’Connell: “I applaud Martha Dwyer's thoughtfully written Op-Ed supporting the development of a comprehensive plan for the care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Connecticut. Her suggestion of opening up Southbury Training School (STS) "...and the regional centers for future placements and using Southbury for outpatient services and skilled nursing care for aged members of this population and respite services for families" is both an economically sound and practical solution. From an economic point of view, Southbury Training School (STS) has been placed in a difficult position in that it has not accepted new placements for several decades. Therefore, as the number of residents decline, the cost per individual rises. That situation could be reversed quickly with the acceptance of new residents sourced from the over 2000 individuals on the waiting list. Additionally, there are several cottages on the grounds of STS that are currently either not in use or under-utilized that could be renovated for the purpose of housing new residents. The fact that, currently, the State owned assets of buildings and land are not being fully utilized for the purpose for which they were intended and for a population that is in such great need is truly beyond comprehension. Ms. Dwyer also makes another excellent point in that the vast majority of Southbury Training School residents have severe to profound intellectual and functional disabilities and these residents have called STS their home for 30, 40, 50 years or more. To uproot these people from their home at STS and put them into a unfamiliar surroundings with poorly qualified staff is truly heartless. I support a comprehensive plan in which Southbury Training School is part of the future.”
Very Concerned: grew up in Connecticut and was blessed to have done so. One thing that I thought still rang true was "Yankee Pride" Obviously, reading this article I can see that this may now be a thing of the past. I pray I am wrong. My cousin spent the majority of his life at Southbury where he had incredible care from staff that fully understood his level of need and were not only highly trained and therefore capable but genuinely cared about and not just for him as a person. My own daughter is 45 years old and has a litany of challenges. She does not come close to the needs, including medical, that the residents of Southbury deal with on a daily basis. I get so sick of watching lives be destroyed even to the level of premature death while people wave the banner "Life is so much better in the COMMUNITY". What are you people thinking except that these individuals’ lives and needs are just in your way so let's dump them into the community? I have prayed for my daughter’s entire life that she could, living in the community, be afforded the access to some critically imperative services living arrangements such as Southbury offer on a day-to-day basis. I am always ready and able to testify to the fact that the community is horrifically lacking in meeting the needs of people with special needs. Why not Yankee up and get back to caring for and about the people who you are about to annihilate. You may want to research Dr. David Straus's article that chronicled the horrendous amount of lives lost in a very short period of time when California began tossing lives out of the developmental centers as though they were yesterday’s wash. SHAME ON YOU! How do you face yourselves in the mirror?”
Bob Wood “IF STS is outdated and too costly to house our most seriously ill citizens, than we need to close nursing homes, the Veterans facilities and any other place we think is costing the tax payers too much. How about the government sending them all to homes across the state just like a lottery? Sound crazy does it, well it is just as crazy as closing these facilities. The people that are living in those facilities have been there for most of their lives. Please let them live out their lives in peace and let their parents die knowing they are safe. Unless you have a child with a disability like I do you don't know anything baby.”
HED12345 For those who wish to close STS and the regional centers: Do you realize that you are trying to privatize the social safety net for the most vulnerable people in our state? What would happen if we were to privatize all of our schools? A lot of children would be left out. That's what is happening in Connecticut now. The state is not meeting its obligations to help its neediest citizens and their families, and the private providers have not stepped up. We have over 2,000 people on the waiting list for services in this state. The fault lies with the DDS, the private providers, and the people of Connecticut who look the other way and pretend that unrealistic solutions will solve this problem. The people who wrote this article have the right idea. Connecticut needs to do more to help the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Instead, they're proposing a plan that is the equivalent of changing the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Evidas “Of note over the last decade 15-20 people living at Southbury pass away annually. This is an expected mortality rate as the average age of death for people living at STS exceeds the average mortality age for most people with moderate to severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Therefore the population of people at STS will decline by at least 1/3 over the next five years with or without people moving out to the community. A very thoughtful and accurate portrayal of the issues that need to be considered with respect to the future of STS.”
Evidas: You are correct. We need a thoughtful and comprehensive plan that considers our point that closing Southbury Training School will not begin to solve the waiting list problem for many years and that addresses the fact that community homes are considerably underfunded. We believe that making Southbury Training School and its services available to others should be one of the possibilities considered in creating such a plan. Please see our website at homeandschoolsts.org Read online with comments: The Hartford Courant
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