News & Events

Fargo grilled on Fernald’s closing at WCONA meeting

WCONA President Doris Donovan speaks during last night’s meeting as state Sen. Susan Fargo looks on.

By Jen Judson/Daily News staff

Daily News Tribune

Posted Jun 24, 2010 @ 01:52 AM

WALTHAM — State Sen. Susan Fargo last night reaffirmed her commitment to the fight to keep the Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center open for its remaining residents.

At a meeting of the Waltham Council of Neighborhood Advocates, Fargo told a nearly full house at the public library that she had several amendments in the recent state budget to slow down the closing or create a plan.

"There is not (a plan) that I know of," said Fargo, "and we also have not had a cost analysis for closing Fernald. There is no information that we have been able to find about what is going to happen."

The state at one time pinpointed June 30 as the center’s closing date. However, closing dates have been rumored to be anywhere from July 1 through the end of the year as the Department of Developmental Services works to move residents to facilities such as an institution in Wrentham.

Guardians of the estimated 70 remaining residents are fighting to keep their loved ones at Fernald.

"I think it’s intolerable that we are treating a group of people in such a callous way," said Fargo, D-Lincoln.

"This is a political issue and it’s also a financial issue," she said. "The financial argument doesn’t move me."

"It’s been very hard," she said.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Steven Panagiotakos, Senate President Therese Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick are all "opposed to us and I think we just have to keep on stubbornly resisting this."

It’s a "dumb" idea to close Fernald, Fargo said, and "insensitive and mean."

The argument for placing individuals with developmental disabilities in community settings doesn’t work for everyone, said Fargo.

"This isn’t a one-size-fits-all."

Although Fargo was at the meeting to address general issues residents may have, the room was filled with people wanting to discuss Fernald.

Many said they worry about the planned closing of the Greene Building, which houses a gymnasium and a therapeutic swimming pool open to residents and the public. The chapel and the activities center, also used by locals, are closing, although the dates are uncertain.

"I don’t know what options we have at this point to try to fight for these small few buildings," said Catherine Gover. "If they close the pool down nobody is going to be building us another pool. Once these resources are gone, they are gone forever.

"The governor is not going to build a new pool for these folks," said Gover. "My hope, senator, is that you will help us hang onto this pool for the residents and other community members."

David Kaloupek, of Waltham, said the Greene Building "looks pretty sound." He said the building’s gymnasium and pool have full schedules for community use, including the Waltham Table Tennis Club.

Valdis Smits, a member of the club, said Mozart Francois, who runs the club, has donated about $60,000 in maintenance to the gym over the years and has now received an eviction notice.

"The governor has given an order so everybody is to be thrown out," said Kaloupek.

Ann Witham, who assists at the chapel at Fernald, said it would continue to be open to serve residents and the public as long as there are residents there.

"They have not been given a closing date at this time," she said.

Jill Lepore, who has worked at Fernald for 20 years, said every nurse was laid off Monday, each receiving 20 days’ notice.

"Who is going to take care of the clients?" she said, "It’s disgusting."

Local 402 Union President Raymond McKinnon relayed a few recent problems due to the smaller staff. A plumber couldn’t be found recently when all the toilets were plugged. Staff members ended up unclogging a toilet using a towel, he said.

"They are trying to make the area and the setting so unpalatable for the guardians that they’ll just say, ‘I’m tired of this, I can’t take it anymore,’ " said McKinnon.

Said Fargo, who is chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, "This place needs to be inspected as to the well-being and treatment of the residents. I will be pursuing that avenue right away," she said. "We need to get some leverage."

"Where do you get that? We need some of that," said a voice in the crowd.

"You have given me an awful lot to think about tonight," said Fargo. "My staff and I need to sit down and try to figure out how we can get this to the attention of more people."

Jen Judson can be reached at 781.398.8004 or