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Turning STS into an institution

February 9, 2012

The opponents of the Southbury Training School will tell you that the facility should be closed because it is too “institutional.” 

But among the many ironies of the ongoing effort of the Department of Developmental Services to close or at least phase down the STS campus is that STS is steadily being turned into more and more of an institution.  The administration is starting to close dozens of small cottages on the STS campus and is moving the residents from them into larger, dormitory-like settings.  That is Step One in the plan to ultimately place as many of those residents as possible in community-based group homes, most of which are privately operated though still state funded.

Irony number 2:  As the administration rushes STS residents out the door and into the group homes, it will increase the time spent by hundreds of other people on a waiting list for community-based residential services from DDS.  It appears STS residents are already being moved to group homes ahead of everyone on the waiting list.

Irony number 3:  Administration officials have repeatedly said they “respect” the STS residents, families and guardians, and are simply using the settlement of the Messier v. STS court case in 2010 to “inform” them of opportunities to move their loved ones to community-based care.  But many of those family members and guardians say that rather than being treated with respect, they are starting to feel pressured to make quick decisions to leave STS.

And while the Messier settlement states that guardians have the final say as to community placements, it also states that DDS can overrule the guardians if it believes they are not acting in their wards’ best interests.   The STS Home & School Association is proposing legislation which would clarify that any decision to remain at STS must be presumed to be in the ward’s best interest.  In addition, the Association is proposing a bill that would require legislative approval of any plan to close STS by a certain date.

Part of the pressure families are feeling to leave has come from the ongoing closures of the cottages, and part of it has come from mixed messages from the administration about the future of STS.

For instance, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent months that they have  no “immediate plans” to close STS.  However, an April 5, 2011 DDS email, which the STS Home & School Association received under a Freedom of Information Act request, projects the virtual closure of STS within nine years.    It also projects the closure of some 20 cottages on campus over the next four years. 

By the end of nine years, the April DDS memo projects the closure of an additional 17 cottages at STS as well as the closure of the administration building, the physical plant and all maintenance buildings and offices.  We previously received a June 2011 DDS memo which discussed the closure of STS under an even more ambitious six-year scenario.

At the time of the April memo, the population of STS was 441.   The memo projects an average of 16 transfers a year from STS to community-based group homes over the next six years.   It also projects an attrition rate through death of 25 residents a year at STS for the first five years, increasing to 30 in years 5 through 10.   As of 2020, eight years from now, the memo projects a population remaining at STS of 69.

In order to close the STS cottages by the April 2011 memo’s projected dates, STS residents will have to be moved ahead of some 550 other people on the DDS waiting list for community placements.  And if STS residents don’t die at the rates anticipated in the memo, DDS will have to place a higher-than-projected number of people in group homes, displacing even more people on the waiting list.

Among the family members and guardians who are feeling the pressure to leave are Sally and Phil Bondy, longtime Board members of the Home & School Association.  The Bondys have agreed to move their son to a state-operated group home this spring.   Phil Bondy maintains that a consideration in their decision was the fact that their son Steve’s cottage is on the closure list, and they didn’t want him to have to have to move twice in the next few years.

In an offer the Bondy’s felt they couldn’t refuse, DDS said they would move all of the residents and staff of Steve’s cottage to a new state-operated community group home.  The placement had “priority,” Bondy said.

It should be noted that the Bondys have been among the Home & School Association’s longest serving and most prominent fighters for STS and its residents.  It is a typical administrative tactic in closing state facilities to offer such prominent members and leaders of family organizations deals to leave that the administration knows would be very very difficult to refuse.  When those leaders accept those deals, it tends to sap the will of other family members to resist moving their own loved ones out of the facilities.  But it’s unlikely that similar deals will be offered to other guardians and family members at STS.  There aren’t that many state-operated group homes to go around.

That, however, won’t stop the administration from making promises to other family members that may or may not be kept.  Barbara Hirsch, a guardian at STS, maintained that Tony Records, appointed under the Messier settlement to “assist in…the community placement of STS residents,” made “outrageous promises” in a meeting she attended about community-based care for her brother, Arthur.  “He would promise us anything to move Art out of STS,” she said.  “It was the most coercion I ever felt.” 

The April 2011 DDS memo states, by the way, that “it is anticipated that the intervention of Mr. Tony Records along with the ongoing cottage closure process will prompt many guardians to more seriously consider community placement as an option.” 

Al Raymond was told that his brother Duncan’s cottage on the STS campus was slated to close within the next year to year and a half  and that if Duncan had not been moved by then into a group home in the community, he would be housed “temporarily” in  a larger, dormitory-like setting on the campus.   He said that Duncan, who is 73, needs the level of privacy afforded in his cottage, and that a larger, dormitory setting would not be good for him. 

Raymond sent an email to STS Director Eugene Harvey in December, maintaining that neither the community nor the STS dormitory alternative would be desirable for his brother.  He also asked whether the ratio of medical and other staff to residents would stay the same as the campus is consolidated and whether recreational and other activities for residents would continue at the same levels that currently exist.

In an email responding to Raymond, Harvey  said the closure of Duncan’s cottage would actually take place in a year and a half to two years.  With regard to medical staffing at STS, Harvey stated that “as the facility continues to downsize we will continue to evaluate and adjust our service provision to accommodate the needs of our residents.”  Raymond said he doesn’t take too  much comfort in that statement.  And while Harvey said Duncan would “continue to have access to campus and community recreational activities,” he didn’t say whether they would continue at the same levels and frequency that exist today.

As we’ve said before, we think the administration is proceeding down the wrong path in consolidating and closing STS.  Were it to truly respect the wishes of the families and guardians, it would remove the pressure on them to move out. 

And were the administration to go a step further and give people in the community the choice of moving into STS, that would actually do something to solve the growing waiting list problem.  It would also bring down the cost of care per resident at STS.


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  1. I too have felt the veiled threat that the best spots will be gone and when STS is closed my ward will not get the best placement. I don’t take well to threats. For my ward, it’s not so much the physical placement but the people caring for him that matter. He gets wonderful care from people who have been with him for decades in some cases. They are family as much as he and I are family. I will keep my ward under the care of the staff at STS for as long as possible.

  2. Gayle Calabrese guardian for Virginia Lee permalink

    There will never again be the care that my cousin has received at Southbury. Liz Hunt is absolutely right in saying that they should be moving people in to STS and not out. They should have been keeping up the property as I knew it years ago.It was a wonderful home where my cousin could go to school, work, go on outings, shopping, dining out and still return to her home and her frients, housemates and wonder staff. I say “was” because as we all have seen, some of these things are slowly being taken away, a little at a time and I unfortunately believe that there is no way we can stop the motion because no one is really listening. They are just going through the motions. Sometimes I wonder what the real reason is that they want to close STS. It certainly is not for the best interest of the clients.

  3. Anonymous permalink

    My sister has been @STS for 43 years and because she is “high functioning”; 3 times over the years she has been moved out to a group home. Each time it was a miserable failure for her. She gets great care at STS that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. She should be allowed to spend whatever is left of her life in that environment.

  4. Anonymous permalink

    So sad–allow these people to age in place- this is their home, the staff are part of their family. Look what happend when they closed St Elisabeths in washington DC- utter chaos and dire results for many, many of the clients.

  5. John doe permalink

    I am an emplyee at STS. Over the years I have had the opportunity to see many many private and state run group homes. I tell you the truth there are none that afford the opportunities that STS does. Many of the folks who live in group homes are very isolated. I guarantee that if the doors to STS were once again open for admission it would be full as soon as the word got out. Over the years there have been numerous folks who had moved out and wanted to come back to live. They were not allowed. We should concentrate our resources to allow folks a place to age gracefully in the home where they grew up since they were children. change the legislation and open the doors for new admissions. If it fills up we will all know it is a place that is needed and desired.

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