GREENWALD: ‘TIME HAS COME’ FOR COMMUNITY OPTIONS FOR DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED

Joint Committee Hearing Shows Need for More Progressive, More Humane, More Cost-Effective Options

(TRENTON) — Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) today announced the “time has come” for New Jerseyans with developmental disabilities and their loved ones to have the choice to pursue community care alternatives. Greenwald has introduced bipartisan legislation, Assembly Bill 1673, to refocus funds from costly, unprogressive institutional care toward community-based options.

“Today’s hearing adds to a mountain of evidence in favor of community options for people with developmental disabilities,” said Greenwald. “Developmentally disabled individuals deserve the best possible care, and the status quo in New Jersey is clearly failing them and their families. The time has come for the state to invest in community options which can produce better care outcomes more cost-effectively and more humanely.”

“We know from countless experiences across the country that community care represents fundamental human dignity that allows many people with developmental disabilities to reach their full potential,” said Greenwald. “The status quo is failing, and it’s unacceptable. Instead of warehousing human life, we should be giving people an opportunity to flourish and thrive in the community, and my bill will give them that choice.”

New Jersey is ranked 49th in the nation in institutionalization rate, with a rate of 34.9 people per 100,000 institutionalized–nearly three times the national average of 12.9 per 100,000. Under Greenwald’s bill, developmentally disabled individuals, their loved ones and their care teams would work together to decide whether institutionalization or a community setting is a more appropriate option. Individuals for whom institutionalization is the best choice will continue to have that option.

“Nobody questions the dedication and passion of the vast majority of caregivers of the developmental centers,” said Greenwald. “But New Jersey is ranked 49th — nearly dead last in the nation — in institutionalization rate. Clearly, we are failing not only people with developmental disabilities but also our state’s great reputation as a progressive and innovative leader on fundamental issues of human dignity.”

While the Community Services Waiting List has more than doubled to nearly 10,000 individuals waiting for community placements in the past decade, the average per-day cost of care in one of the state’s developmental centers has risen from $640 to $710 in just the past year alone.

“By refocusing funding toward community options, we can free many families from a seemingly endless purgatory of waiting lists and delays,” said Greenwald. “These families have waited for too long.”

In addition to Assemblyman Greenwald, the bipartisan legislation’s prime Assembly sponsors include John McKeon (D-Essex), Jon Bramnick (R-Union), and Charlotte Vandervalk (R-Bergen). The prime sponsors of the Senate companion bill are Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union).

Here is what some of the state’s largest and most-influential papers had to say about Greenwald’s bipartisan legislation:

The Star-Ledger

For decades, New Jersey has warehoused many of its developmentally disabled, tucked them into beds, given them three square meals and board games, and decided that was good enough — even though research says most, if not all, would enjoy a better life among the rest of us. They are promised a better tomorrow, then stuck on a waiting list for community living that has doubled in the past decade.

Greenwald’s bill… would allow individuals with developmental disabilities, their families and doctors to decide what’s best — a move into the community or a room in the center. Either way, funding would follow them…

Greenwald’s bill answers the major concerns of its detractors. If it turns out more than two centers are needed for more severely disabled individuals who want — or need — to remain institutionalized, additional centers will remain open. And most jobs won’t be lost…

When public policy wastes millions of dollars, it’s bad policy. When that policy also prevents people from reaching their full potential, or needlessly separates them from those who love them, it’s inexcusable. (Source: Editorial, “More Group Homes Make Moral, Economic Sense,” January 26, 2009)

The Record

[Greenwald’s] bill envisions fewer dollars being needed to support a higher quality of life for the estimated 80 percent of the clients who would be relocated. They would have opportunities to work; to learn such skills as shopping and cooking; and to use libraries, join public pools, volunteer for community service and otherwise participate in neighborhood life. (Source: “Lawmaker: Shut Most Institutions for the Mentally Disabled,” Elise Young, January 9, 2009)

The Press of Atlantic City

Community-based residences are not the answer for every disabled individual. That’s why Greenwald’s five-year plan would leave two of the state’s developmental centers open, one in the northern part of the state and one in the south.

But at least 10 other states have moved far more aggressively than New Jersey in replacing institutional care with community-based care, Greenwald says. For most of the developmentally disabled, a group home or something similar is considered more nurturing than institutionalized care…

The opposition to this plan has been painfully parochial…

The goal should be the most humane, effective — and cost-effective — care. New Jersey desperately needs more community-based alternatives for the disabled. Greenwald is on the right track and deserves praise for even tackling this often-ignored issue. (Source: Editorial, “More Group Homes; The Right Direction,” January 12, 2009)

Asbury Park Press

Greenwald is right to address what he correctly calls “failed public policy” that has left far too many of this fragile population languishing in institutions. It costs the state $227,000 to house each of the 2,900 residents, money that could be put to better use providing a healthier quality of life in smaller care settings. (Source: Editorial, “Reach May Exceed Grasp,” January 14, 2009)

The Home News Tribune

Greenwald has history and strong example on his side.

Some 40 years ago, the state of Washington provided for its developmentally disabled citizens by keeping them in seven state-run institutions, much like New Jersey does now. No more. Today, most of Washington’s developmentally disabled residents live in their own homes or in community living. As a result, the state’s number of institutionalized individuals with developmental disabilities has declined from 8,000 to 1,300.

Greenwald’s proposal calls for moving most of the more than 2,500 residents of state institutions into community housing, but it also provides, much like Washington did, for a good many of them to live with family, aided by a dose of state financial support. (Source: Editorial, “Housing Plan a Winning Idea for the Disabled and New Jersey,” January 15, 2009)

Philadelphia Inquirer

[Greenwald’s] proposal keeps open two centers to accommodate those unable to live independently in a community setting.

Critics also say the proposal limits the number of options for the disabled. But it actually offers a more attractive option for many who have spent most of their lives institutionalized and shut off from society. Currently, most of the nearly 40,000 developmentally disabled clients the state serves live in communities, not institutions.

Greenwald’s proposal has the right intent and strikes the right balance. Lawmakers should move forward with the plan. The developmentally disabled deserve a chance to improve their quality of life. (Source: Editorial, “The Disabled: Toward A Better Life,” January 24, 2009)

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