News & Events

Fighting for Fernald in Waltham

By Jen Judson/Daily News staff

Daily News Tribune

Posted Apr 26, 2010 @ 02:36 AM

WALTHAM – Hyman Sher shuffled up to the front of the room on the arm of Paul Baker, a member of the Fernald staff. Occasionally, in short spurts, Sher belts out monosyllabic words from a language all his own.

Sher is 98 years old. He has lived at the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center, a state institution on Trapelo Road, since 1919.

Sher, who is developmentally disabled, could lose his home on June 30 when the state is scheduled to close Fernald.

He attended a breakfast at Fernald on Friday for family members and friends of the facility’s residents as well as legislators who contend Fernald should remain open.

Sher joined Dorothy Rouleau at the podium.

"His sister, who is older than him, is his guardian," Rouleau said of 100-year-old Lillian.

Rouleau, herself, has a sister, Margaret, at the facility. She has been there since 1948.

A few months ago, Rouleau said, Lillian was receiving "harassing" phone calls daily telling her that Sher had to move out of Fernald.

Last week, Rouleau said she received a frantic call from Lillian telling her that the Department of Developmental Services requested she meet with them regarding the need to move Sher from his home.

Rouleau said Lillian told her the whole process was killing her.

"She stays alive because of Hyman," said Rouleau.

As Rouleau spoke of the situation, Sher sat in a chair next to the podium and munched enthusiastically on honeydew melon, which is unusual, said Rouleau, as he usually has to be forced to eat.

Among those who attended the breakfast, hosted by friends and families of Fernald, were state reps. Angelo Scaccia, D-Boston, and William Brownsberger, D-Belmont, Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, Waltham City Council President Paul Brasco and City Councilor and Fernald Board of Trustees co-chair Kathleen McMenimen.

The state has decided that in two months it will evict the remaining 97 residents of Fernald, said Thomas Frain, president of the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates.

"There is legislation that can save this and bring some sanity back to this process and ease the suffering of the families who have loved ones here, the loved ones who have lived here forever and enjoy the incredibly dedicated care and cost-effective care that’s delivered at Fernald," said Frain.

Frain outlined a series of state amendment proposals and asked the breakfast attendees to please take a list of 10 state representatives and call them to ask them to sign on to the measures to keep Fernald open so the residents can remain there.

One of the proposals, Amendment 116, sponsored by state reps. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, and Vincent Pedone, D-Worcester, calls for a yearlong study to have the Department of Developmental Services explain why it is closing state facilities.

"What is the benefit? What is the basis in deciding to close these facilities? The answer is there is no basis for closing them," said Frain.

Until the study is done, no transfers would be allowed out of any of the facilities, Frain said.

Another proposal, Amendment 842, would restore funding to the facilities. Frain said. According to an analysis by one health care professional, it costs less than $36,000 a year to care for a resident at Fernald, he said. "It’s cheap care," he said.

Direct care workers at state institutions are paid between $11.60 and $15 an hour.

Vendor-operated group homes workers get paid around $8 an hour and are not union represented, said Frain.

"It means you don’t stay," said Frain of workers in group homes. "You don’t get to know the … person and you don’t get to know their family."

"In my state-operated group home where my brother lives, the direct-care workers are my family," said Frain.

"State-operated facilities should be preserved," he said.

Regina Davidson, co-guardian of her sister-in-law, Marilyn Davidson, 67, said her sister-in-law, upon hearing that she might have to leave Fernald, her home for the last 25 years, has started to show signs of "behavioral deterioration" due to the turmoil.

"I am sorry I couldn’t bring Marilyn to meet you today. You would have seen and heard a kind and loving, adjusted … person, who is only now comfortable in her own skin," she said. "Her Fernald family gave her the life she deserved by building trust and showing her love."

"In the last years when confronted with the news of the Fernald closure, Marilyn has clearly stated, ‘I won’t go,"’ said Davidson.

Marilyn now bangs her head on a tiled bathroom wall. "These are signs of anguish and it is happening all over Fernald," said Davidson.

The residents remaining at Fernald have called it home for most of their lives.

"I will fight and we will continue to fight and we will stay here at Fernald," she said.

Jen Judson can be reached at 781-398-8004 or