The State House of Representatives took steps yesterday (see News story below) to protect the state’s most vulnerable disabled residents with the passage of an amendment to the state budget that prevents the closure of facilities, like the Fernald Center, for the severely mentally retarded unless those residents are guaranteed equal or better care in an alternative setting (there are no community settings that provide the level of care these people need), that those settings actually exist (there are none that exist at this time); and that the eviction of residents from these facilities to community settings will actually save money (there is no way that this can be accomplished). Kudos to State Representatives Tom Stanley and Peter Koutoujian for their filing of this amendment and for their efforts to win its inclusion in the House budget. And thanks to the House members for voting in favor of this measure. Now, the fight to protect these residents moves to the Senate, where Senator Susan Fargo of Lincoln is pushing for a similar measure in the Senate budget.
If you want to support this effort, please contact your state senator and ask them to support language in the Senate budget that would prevent the closure of the Fernald Center and the other state facilities for the severely mentally retarded. If you don’t know your state senator, visit the web address below for help:
Fernald may get reprieve
By Patrick Golden
The Daily News Tribune
Friday, May 9, 2003
WALTHAM – The state House of Representatives has agreed to language in its fiscal 2004 budget proposal that would prevent closing facilities such as the Fernald Development Center unless a cost-benefit analysis is submitted and residents’ well-being will not be jeopardized.
"I believe it closes a huge loophole and prevents a rush to a premature closure without ensuring cost savings and proper care," said state Rep. Thomas Stanley yesterday.
The local legislator pushed to include language regarding intermittent care facilities for the mentally retarded in response to concerns that Gov. Mitt Romney’s plan to close Fernald will not save the state money and could be detrimental to its mentally retarded residents.
Fernald houses 308 severely retarded residents and employs 875 state Department of Mental Retardation employees. A state court decision requires offering displaced residents a new home that is equal to or better than their current one.
The proposed legislation needs approval of the Senate and Gov. Mitt Romney.
The original House Ways & Means budget proposal stated that no facility such as Fernald could be permanently closed until a cost analysis is submitted and other criteria is met. In the new version, the word "permanently" is removed. Stanley said this offers better protection against closing the facilities.
"The budget language is not obstructive to the governor and Legislature making effective use of state facilities and fiscal resources," said Stanley.
The state Executive Office of Health and Human Services originally estimated closing Fernald would save the state $4.2 million, but has since reduced the estimate to $2.3 million. Stanley said a more specific cost analysis is needed.
The House yesterday also approved legislation that calls for involving local officials and residents in deciding a future use for the Fernald property.
In other budget news, the House agreed to a budget amendment filed by state Rep. Peter Koutoujian that keeps Weston in Waltham District Court’s jurisdiction. The proposed budget called for moving Weston, along with Wellesley and Wayland, to Natick District Court. Wellesley is part of Dedham District Court and Wayland is part of Framingham District Court. Both Wellesley and Wayland are still slated to move. Weston is not.
"It will save jobs at Waltham District Court," said Koutoujian.
Waltham District Court Judge Gregory Flynn lobbied to keep Weston under Waltham’s jurisdiction.
Koutoujian said Natick District Court is underused and lawmakers wanted to increase its business by removing communities from the more heavily used courts and send them to Natick.
Romney’s budget proposal calls for closing Natick District Court as part of a plan he estimates would save the state $3.5 million.
Koutoujian also successfully pushed through budget amendments for local agencies that serve the mentally retarded, such as the Greater Waltham Association for Retarded Citizens and WCI.
The House agreed to restore $1.2 million for day programs, $1 million for transportation and $1 million for adult services and an individual support program.