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Setting the record straight about STS and the community

November 2, 2011

It’s amazing the amount of misinformation that is regularly propagated about state developmental centers for persons with intellectual disabilities, such as the Southbury Training School.

We were told by the Arc of Connecticut last year that STS is “a relic of a time when people with intellectual disabilities were hidden away from mainstream society and forced to live in the shadows of segregation.”   This, despite the fact that the Arc was commenting on litigation before U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Bree Burns, who stated in 2006 that STS was providing a “state-of-the-art model of institutional care.”

Also last year, a New London Day editorial referred to STS as “a throwback to another time, when rather than integrating the mentally retarded, society warehoused them.”   And a Hartford Courant columnist termed STS  “a creaking museum from a decades-old era when people were called mentally retarded and warehoused.”

We have to ask whether any of those people have ever visited STS.  We can’t believe that any of them would hold the opinions they do if they had seen first-hand the high-level care and services provided at STS every day to its residents.  In fact, we urge all legislators, journalists who write about issues of concern to the intellectually disabled, and policy makers in this field to pay a visit to STS.

Even if they don’t schedule a visit,  we hope the critics of STS will read this post to learn what the STS residents and their families and guardians already know to be the case — that STS not only provides high-level care, but that STS is highly integrated into its surrounding community in Southbury, and that it provides many economic benefits to that community.

First, STS is not a throwback to another time and no one there is warehoused.  The staff at STS provide a comprehensive level of “active treatment” to the residents that is mandated under Title 19 of the Social Security Act.   As an Intermediate Care Facility for persons with developmental disabilities (ICF/DD), STS must meet standards of care that are higher than those in place in the vast majority of community-based group homes.  Treatment activities provided on site include direct care, clinical and psychological care, physical and occupational therapy, medical and dental care, and recreational, day and work programs.

The American Health Care Association has this to say about ICF/DD-level care provided at facilities such as STS:

Changes and improvements in ICF/DD support and training services have created one of the most progressive and technically advanced programs anywhere in the world. For residents, quality of life has improved dramatically, as access and choice have become hallmarks of the ICF/DD program. Support and training programs now provide them with increased opportunities to live in more home-like, less restrictive settings and, to the extent possible, to become a more integral part of their communities.

As stated above, STS is a part of the surrounding community in Southbury.  The staff at STS regularly bring STS residents to community-based events and activities, whether it’s to local restaurants and shopping malls or to beaches or amusement parks.  Moreover, the integration model is a two-way street.  Some 500 community-based clients of the Department of Developmental Services are treated each year at the STS dental clinic, which is funded under the STS budget.  STS also provides dietary and ob-gyn services to community-based clients.

Here are are few other examples of the integration of STS and the surrounding community and the benefits that are consequently provided to both STS residents and community-based residents:

The greenhouse and farm:  Residents of the town of Southbury frequent the STS greenhouse and buy its plants, flowers, and pumpkins, which are grown and cultivated by STS residents.  About 20 STS residents also collect eggs laid by the roughly 1,000 hens on the developmental center’s chicken farm.  The eggs are provided to the Gatehouse Cafe on the STS grounds and are sold as well to local restaurants.  The cafe serves residents of the community as well as STS families and staff.

The revenues from the green house sales are used to buy equipment for STS’s day programs, while the Gatehouse Cafe revenues go into a fund used for renovation projects on the campus.  STS residents also help stack wood from trees that are felled on the campus, and that wood is then made available for sale in the community.  In addition, STS residents help plant and grow Christmas trees on the campus, which are then sold to community residents.

The greenhouse at STS -- revenues from plant sales go toward day programs

The Gatehouse Cafe at STS -- revenues from food sales go into a renovation fund

The thrift shops:  Two thrift shops at STS have operated for decades.  One of the shops sells donated clothing while the other sells donated furniture, glassware, electrical appliances, televisions, books, and much more.  Open year-round, Monday through Friday and a half day on Saturday, the thrift shops are staffed by close 100 volunteers from the Southbury community.

The high quality of the items sold at the thrift shops and the competitive prices attract a regular clientele from the community as well as collectors.  The shops make a net profit of roughly $220,000 a year, which is put toward improving the quality of life for STS residents, including upgrading the interiors of cottages and other living quarters, and buying TVs, furniture, and adaptive switches for wheelchairs.

The Roselle School Day Programs:  A wide range of work, adaptive skills, and recreational programs is provided to STS residents, many of them in the Roselle School building on campus.  While day and work programs are available as well to community-based clients of the Department of Developmental Services, STS provides an advantage to its residents of concentrating all day programs on the campus, saving money in transportation costs.

Gatehouse Cafe Summer Concert Series:  Hundreds of residents of the Southbury community and beyond regularly attend outdoor summer concerts at STS, where admission is free of charge.  STS also hosts the largest annual antique auto show in New England, funds from which are donated to benefit residents of the school.

STS fire and ambulance service: STS provides its own fire protection and ambulance service and provides backup fire protection and ambulance services to the Town of Southbury.  This is a factor in the cost of care at STS, but it is also a significant economic and fiscal benefit to the town, which is served by volunteer fire and ambulance personnel.  Not only does the town save money in not having to provide fire and ambulance services to STS, but it receives backup services from the facility.

911 emergency dispatch service:  For years, STS had operated its own emergency call dispatch system, saving the town from the expense of including STS in its own emergency call system.  STS was required, however, to transfer that dispatch responsibility to the town, and did so as of last month.  As compensation, the school made a one-time payment to the town of $60,000.

General economic benefits of STS:  Developmental centers such as STS provide direct economic benefits to their surounding communities from employee salaries, and they provide so-called ripple or multiplier benefits.  Ripple effects include “indirect”  jobs supported or created in area businesses such as food distributors and office supply firms that provide goods and services to the developmental centers.  And those ripple effects include  “induced” sales and jobs supported by the developmental center employees when they patronize restaurants, gas stations, banks, grocery stores, computer stores, convenience stores and much more.

In an August 2011 report,  the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois concluded that closing the Jacksonville Developmental Center in Illinois would affect 591 jobs and have a ripple effect on $47 million of economic activity in Morgan County and $17 million in the City of Jacksonville.  According to the University of Illinois report, the closure of the Jacksonville Center would also result in $590,000 in lost state sales and income taxes paid by employees who were laid off and by suppliers to the facility.

A September 2009 report prepared on the impact of the Kansas Neurological Institute on the economy of the Topeka area during Fiscal Year 2010 found a direct economic impact of $28 million from the developmental center and an additional ripple effect of $37 million.  Taking into account the KNI’s 570 workers, the developmental center supports a total of 1,311 jobs in the local community, the report said.

We have not been able to locate any such economic benefit studies that may have been done on STS.  We hope the Malloy administration commissions such a study.

In sum, it can’t be overstated that STS is a part of the economic and social fabric of the community in the Southbury area and western New Haven County in general.  It provides a level of comprehensive care to its residents that is highly valued by those residents, their families and guardians.  It is wrong and deeply upsetting to those families and guardians when claims are made that their loved ones are warehoused at the facility or when intentional parallels are made between STS and former segregationist policies in the Deep South.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Members of the Arc of Connecticut and the media profess to have respect for the STS families and guardians.  We hope we never have to read or hear these types of misrepresentations again.


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  1. Philip K. Bondy, M.D. permalink

    Good summary. You might have added the fact that some residents of STS also have jobs working in the community. Indeed, STS residents were never isolated from the community. They always have worked in projects — like the farm and the green house — that had direct contact with community residents.

  2. Anonymous permalink

    Barb Roberts-Hirsch….Once again thank you for your clear, and honest representation of our situation at STS, and the frustrations faced by family members, guardians, and now, even the residents at STS. Many guardians are not local, not able to keep up on the current situation, hearing only the State version of the situation, and do not fully appreciate the extremely fine quality of care offered at STS, and are only hearing the “State” side. Many people wishing to close STS, have outdated information, and many, especially our legislators, have never even visited STS, despite being invited many times. Please continue your efforts on behalf of those of us who wish to have our loved ones remain in their HOMES at STS. Thank you.

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