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More Than 9,000 Signatures delivered to Governor Romney by COFAR

COFAR Delivers More Than 9,000 Signatures Opposing Fernald Closure to Governor Romney during the Release of Yesterday’s House Budget

BOSTON—Family members and advocates for the retarded delivered petitions to Governor Romney’s office on Wednesday, April 23 containing more than 9,000 signatures from citizens who oppose the administration’s plans to close the Fernald Developmental Center and the five other remaining state facilities for the mentally retarded.

The presentation of the petitions capped a morning of personal lobbying of legislators and their staffs by members of the Coalition of Families and Advocates for the Retarded (COFAR)—most of who have family members living at Fernald and the other facilities. Starting just after 9:30 Wednesday morning, some 40 COFAR members began walking the halls of the Statehouse, buttonholing legislators and their staff members in their offices, and handing out information opposing the closure plans.

The events at the Statehouse came as the House released its plan for closing a projected $3 billion state budget gap next year. The House budget legislation contained language accepting the administration’s plans to close unspecified facilities for the retarded. However, the House language would require that a determination be made that the community has adequate resources to provide equal or better services to residents transferred from the state facilities and that the cost of providing services in the community is lower than in the state facility.

The House bill also contained an outside section requiring the creation of a Fernald Developmental Center Land Reuse Committee, which would develop a plan for the Fernald site upon the closure of the facility. The plan would include a goal of creating new community residences at the Fernald site for former residents of the facility.

COFAR’s lobbying effort at the Statehouse culminated just after 11 a.m. with a presentation to the governor’s office of the petitions opposing the facility closures.

"What we heard from people across the state was that Governor Romney’s budget proposals go too far," said Diane Booher, who coordinated the collection by COFAR volunteers of petitions containing more than 5,600 signatures. Booher presented an additional 4,000 signatures collected by AFSCME Council 93, a state employee union, in support of keeping the state facilities open. The petitions were handed by Booher to two aides to Romney at the entrance to the Governor’s State House office.

"We are prepared to come together with the administration to work out a reasonable plan (to save the facilities)," Booher said to the governor’s aides as a crowd of COFAR supporters and journalists assembled outside the governor’s office looked on. "In the words of Nelson Mandela, we are here today with the hope of being your partner." The aides said Romney himself was in Washington on Wednesday and was unavailable to meet with the group.

Among the COFAR members who trod the Statehouse halls Wednesday morning were Peggy and Joe Hughes of Weymouth and Joan and Fred Doherty of Reading, who traveled as a group from office to office on the fourth and fifth floors. They talked to aides and lawmakers alike, wherever they could find them. The Doherty’s son died at Fernald five years ago, after having lived there for 30 years. "We’re here for the other kids," said Fred Doherty. "What the staff there did for our son was fantastic. We don’t want to see this facility go."

On the fifth floor, the Doherty and the Hughes families met Rep. Stephen LeDuc, who was leaving his office as they came in. They told their stories to him, maintaining that the Department of Mental Retardation could save money by moving to Fernald and ending its expensive lease of its offices in Boston. LeDuc promised to contact Representative Stanley and other Fernald area lawmakers to discuss the matter.

The COFAR members presented the lawmakers with a detailed rebuttal to the governor’s proposal and the recommendation of a legislative task force that the facilities be closed. Among the points made by the rebuttal are the following:

The decision to close these facilities is based on the false premise that Fernald and the other state facilities are stereotypical "warehouses" for the retarded of years gone by. Today, these facilities provide state-of-the-art care for the most severely and profoundly retarded residents of the state.

There are no community residences anywhere in the state at this time that can provide equal or better care to that currently provided the residents of Fernald and the other state facilities. Questions and problems in the provision of care continue to plague the community-based system.

Studies have shown that comparable community-based care is not less expensive than state-based care.

COFAR remains willing and able to work with the administration on a comprehensive plan to provide for appropriate and compatible uses for the grounds and facilities at these sites while retaining as homes for their current residents.

(A fuller account of Fred and Joan Doherty’s and Joe and Peggy Hughes’ visit to the Statehouse on Wednesday will appear in the upcoming May edition of The COFAR Voice.)