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Moratorium on closing White Haven, three other centers passes state House
Standard-Speaker - 1/16/2020
Jan. 16--A bill requiring a task force to approve and five years to go by before closing White Haven or three other state centers passed the state House Wednesday.
Now the bill returns to the Senate, which approved a different version in November 2019 of a moratorium on closing centers for people with intellectual disabilities or related conditions who need specialized health and rehabilitative services.
Sen. John Yudichak, I-14, Plymouth Twp., thanked House members, including the delegation from Luzerne County, for supporting the bill of which he is the prime sponsor.
"I look forward to working with my Senate with my colleagues Sen. Michele Brooks, Sen. Scott Hutchinson and Sen. Lisa Baker to concur on House amendments and send Senate Bill 906 to the governor for his signature," Yudichak said in a statement. His district includes the White Haven Center, where his mother once worked.
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to close centers in White Haven and Polk, Venango County, and plans to veto the amended bill.
Before amendments, the bill prevented closing any center until 13,000 people with intellectual disabilities found services in the community that they are on a waiting list to receive.
As amended, the bill says no state center will close unless a task force of 12 appointees does a comprehensive evaluation of the center and reports to the Department of Human Services.
Then the bill says no center would close unless a closure plan is made public and "approved by way of a majority vote of the task force and five years have elapsed."
The five-year wait to close a center extends beyond the end of Wolf's term, but the 139 House members who voted for the bill Thursday are three more than required to override a veto if all 203 members are present.
"Today's vote is a huge victory for the White Haven Center and its residents, some of whom have lived there for 40 or 50 years," state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp., said in a statement.
In an interview, she said case law says people are entitled to a choice of a state center or appropriate care in a community setting. Aging parents are worried about what will happen to their adult children who have lived in the centers for years.
"People are panicked about what happens to them when they die. If you don't have a sibling, who is going to care for your children?" Toohil asked.
They like the safety net, Toohil said, of a state center where workers earn a high wage and have a lower turnover rate than in private homes and centers.
Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, Newport Twp., whose district includes the White Haven Center, thanked representatives from both parties for supporting the bill.
"This bill, as amended, does exactly what Governor Wolf and his Council on Reform should have done from the start, before moving to close these centers. It corrects his mistake and ensures all avenues will be explored before making such a critical decision," Mullery said.
The bill requires the task force to form a closure plan that includes a property appraisal of the center, a listing of the employees, wages and benefits, an inventory of assets at the center and a detailed report of services provided.
Also, the plan will have a timeline for closure, including plans to reassign staff and detail the process for moving residents to "a home and community-based support system."
In August when Wolf's administration proposed closing centers in White Haven and Polk, the department said the closings would take place in three years, and each resident would have a plan in place for where to move.
In 2018, Pennsylvania closed a center at Hamburg, Berks County, and the state has been following a national trend of caring for people with intellectual disabilities by providing services to them in their homes or in community settings such as group homes or foster homes.
The four remaining centers, including those in Ebensburg, Cambria County, and Selinsgrove, Snyder County, which would remain open under Wolf's plan, have fewer than 720 residents. Twenty years earlier when the state had more centers, about 3,000 people lived in them.
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