By Thomas M. Stanley
I am writing to express my opposition to closing the Fernald Center, located in my neighborhood and district in Waltham.
I am in favor of keeping the Fernald Center open, as is the majority of my constituency in Waltham, religious leaders, and neighborhood associations as well the entire City Council, which just last Monday passed a resolution stating the City’s support of keeping the Center open.
I recognize the severity of the Commonwealth’s budget crises. To that end, it is our responsibility as legislators to work with Gov. Mitt Romney and give full consideration to his ideas and proposals. Unfortunately, little backup information has come forth outlining how cost savings will be achieved by closing the Fernald Center.
Since learning of Gov. Romney’s intention to close the Center, many issues have been raised, issues which need to be resolved such as the future quality of care for the residents and potential development of the property itself. In addition to the 300-plus developmentally disabled clients Fernald presently serves, I am very concerned about the three homeless shelters on the campus, which house 67 mothers and roughly 250 children. These facilities need to be preserved or and the families provided for.
Although I understand Governor Romney’s desire to cut costs by closing this facility, I do not understand the eviction of the elderly, medically challenged or behaviorally challenged residents. Proponents of the closure argue that placing the clients in group homes within the community will be an opportunity for them to live outside of an institution. Realistically, however, many of these clients are elderly and have never lived outside of Fernald, and depend on its services, which allow residents to learn and grow through a variety of programs designed to develop both work and daily living skills. Ninety percent of Fernald’s residents receive educational and job training in work and program centers on and off grounds. The direct service staff’s services include speech, occupational, physical and recreation therapists, direct care staff, psychologists and social workers.
I am concerned about the well-being of the Fernald clients, and I believe Governor Romney’s decision to close the Center was hasty and unplanned. I am concerned that Fernald’s clients will no longer receive the quality care and support services they are accustomed to and deserve. Studies that suggest that community living costs for individuals receiving similar services are comparable to – and sometimes even higher than – the institutional costs for individuals.
Before the Fernald Center is closed prematurely, a cost benefit analysis ought to be performed. It would be a shame to disrupt so many lives without realizing true cost savings that would help address the Commonwealth’s serious financial crises.
Gov. Romney’s administration is also pursuing altering the way in which the state disposes of surplus land to more efficiently address current financial needs of the Commonwealth. Since clients are no longer being admitted to facilities such as Fernald, it will eventually close. Whether this occurs in 18 months or 18 years, I respectfully request the host community of Waltham play a formal role in its deposition and future re-use. A more efficient process can be developed that allows Waltham the ability to influence the decisions that will guide the future land use of the property.
Waltham has many needs including affordable housing, open space preservation and recreational fields and facilities. Our community has served as a gracious host to many social needs of the Commonwealth and deserves to be included in the surplus land deposition process.
To this end, I am also concerned about the Department of Capital Asset Management’s (DCAM) desire to develop state-owned land along Trapelo Road for a possible Middlesex Court Complex. With Trapelo Road already congested with an overabundance of traffic, I have serious concerns about the effects that an additional 2,600 car trips (daily) would have on the residential area and the quality of life of local residents. Working together, the state and Waltham could address our society’s needs in a manner more suitable to local residents.
Thomas M. Stanley is the 9th Middlesex District State Representative.