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Legislators need to hear new perspectives on DDS care

April 23, 2012

We think our state legislators need to hear different perspectives on the future of the Southbury Training School and on other types of care in the Department of Developmental Services system.

These include proposals to expand the mission of STS by opening it to new residents and upgrading it to provide additional medical and other services to community-based DDS clients.

It seems that legislators have heard so far from one viewpoint — from DDS and from its allies in the provider community.  Both support the ultimate closure of STS and further privatization of DDS care.

On April 9, we wrote to Senator Terry Gerratana and Representative Elizabeth Ritter, co-chairs of the Public Health Committee, to request a meeting to let them hear our perspectives on these issues, particularly our proposal to re-open STS to new admissions.  Last week, one of our members received an email from a committee staff member, stating that the co-chairs “are not meeting with anyone” until after the current legislative session ends on May 9.

It seems unfortunate that while the legislative session is ongoing, the co-chairs of the committee that has primary jurisdiction over issues of concern to 20,000 people in Connecticut with intellectual disabilities are not meeting with anyone.  We think this is the time for the committee and its staff to be meeting with and hearing from people with a range of different viewpoints on the matters with which the committee deals. 

We would like to tell Senator Gerratana and Rep. Ritter and the other committee members why we believe re-opening STS to new admissions will both bring down the cost of care per resident there and alleviate the waiting list for services in the DDS system in Connecticut.

As part of that discussion, we want to tell the lawmakers about the Community Resource Center concept under which a facility such as STS could expand its services to populations in need of dental, medical, or other specialized care that are currently difficult to access in the community system.  As it is, STS already provides dental services to some 500 community-based clients of DDS.

In particular, the Public Health Committee members need to be made aware of what has been proposed for two developmental centers in Oklahoma, which have been targeted by that state for closure.  In January, both the families of the residents of the facilities and facility employees presented a detailed proposal to the state to build new, energy efficient homes on the campuses and establish acute care Community Resource Centers on each campus that would serve persons with intellectual disabilities in both the surrounding communities and in the developmental centers themselves. 

The plan calls for downsizing the current campuses on which the Oklahoma developmental centers are located and using revenues from the sale of the land to help pay off bonds used to develop the new housing and Community Resource Center units.

The Connecticut Public Health Committee members should also know about the  success of the Underwood and Lee Clinic in Louisville, KY, which provides dental care at the Hazelwood developmental center in Louisville to both residents of the center and community-based clients with intellectual disabilities.  When first introduced in 1989, a proposal to establish the clinic on the grounds of the developmental center met with strong resistance from both advocates of community-based care and state budget analysts who said the clinic would be too expensive to operate.

Today, the clinic serves 1,000 patients a year and has a 97 percent patient satisfaction rate.  Moreover, it provides care to people who had been unable to access dental care in the community system for years.  Some of the patients who arrived at the clinic had more than a dozen painful dental abscesses in their mouths because of their inability to find dental care elsewhere in the state.

We believe the Oklahoma and Kentucky examples point the way to the future in care for the intellectually disabled in Connecticut and elsewhere in the country.  Unfortunately, the administration does not appear to be open to these new approaches as it moves to effectively close STS and other state-operated facilities and to privatize their services. 

Much has to be done to set the record straight about what is currently happening in Connecticut and what could and should happen, and we believe even members of the Public Health Committee may be confused about this.

For instance, we’ve seen that the administration has been working behind the scenes to close cottages at STS and has even projected six and nine-year closure scenarios for the center in internal memos.  Yet, administration officials have also been making careful public statements in which they’ve denied any intent to close STS in a set period of time. 

As a result, some state legislators believe wrongly that nothing is being done, or will be done, to close STS and other state-operated facilities, while others apparently believe equally wrongly that STS will or should close imminently.  One STS guardian received an email from one legislator on the Public Health Committee that the guardian’s resident “can be viewed as secure.”  No one feels secure right now at STS. 

At the other end of the spectrum, another guardian received an email from another committee member, claiming mistakenly that STS is under a court order to close.  There is no such court order. 

The legislator was apparently referring to the November 2010 U.S. District Court order and settlement agreement in Messier v. STS, which set up a process to inform STS guardians about available community-based placements and to evaluate all STS residents for possible placement in the community.  In her final order in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Bree Burns explicitly stated that the settlement makes no provision for closing STS.  We believe the administration may be violating the settlement agreement in seeking to move residents out of STS as quickly as possible.

We’ve invited that Public Health Committee member, in particular, to sit in on the meeting we’re proposing. 

We also want to tell the committee about the true cost of care at STS and in the community system.  And we’d like to talk to them about a lack of oversight of the community system that makes it imperative to maintain STS as a viable choice for its current residents and potentially for others.  And we’d like to discuss what we see as a conflict of interest that the providers have in seeking to close STS.

There’s a lot to discuss.  We hope Senator Gerratana and Rep. Ritter will get back to us soon.


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