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Co-Chair Vainieri Huttle Calls on Christie Administration to Halt Plans to Close Vineland Center Until Panel Completes Review

Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic) today announced the appointment of Assembly members Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Cleopatra Tucker and Lou Greenwald to the Legislative Review Panel on State Psychiatric Hospitals and Developmental Centers, a bipartisan body that was recently created by legislation to study issues relating to the care and costs of providing services to clients in these facilities.

“This is an issue of utmost importance that impacts some of our most vulnerable residents. Any decisions as to the future of these facilities should not be made lightly. I have every confidence that the members I appointed today will undertake their responsibilities in earnest,” said Oliver.

Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who will serve as one of the panel’s co-chairs, noted that the Department of Human Services is already in the process of closing the Vineland Developmental Center as proposed by Governor Christie in his FY 2012 budget.

“As the new co-chair of this panel, I am requesting today that the administration place a moratorium on the closure of the Vineland Developmental Center until the panel has had an opportunity to make recommendations on the issue. At the very least, the administration should hold off on this decision until the FY 2012 budget is passed by the legislature since we have not approved this closure yet,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who is also the lead Assembly sponsor of the measure that created the panel.

In doing so, Vainieri Huttle sent a letter today to Department of Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez formally making this request and detailing a litany of questions that she would like answered by the administration prior to a joint Senate and Assembly committee hearing on the issue, which will take place at the Vineland facility on May 17.

In addition to Oliver’s appointments today, the legislation requires the review panel to be comprised of 10 members – five from the Senate appointed by the Senate President and five from the General Assembly appointed by the Speaker, with no more than three from either house being from the same political party.

Under the bill, the Legislative Review Panel on State Psychiatric Hospitals and Developmental Centers will:

– Study issues relating to the care and costs of providing services to persons who are currently patients in state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers;

– Develop a plan for the effective functioning of state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers that will ensure that the current and long-term needs of patients and residents are met in the most cost-effective manner and in the setting most appropriate to the person’s circumstances; and

– Review all relevant patient data for state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers, and examine those issues that relate to state psychiatric hospitals, short-term care facilities, county psychiatric hospitals, and community-based care for persons with mental illness throughout the state, and to community-based services, supports, and residential options throughout the State for persons with developmental disabilities.

Finally, the resolution directs the review panel to report its activities, findings, conclusions, and recommendations for legislation or administrative action to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly within one year after the organization of the panel, but no later than 60 days before the close of the legislative session in which the resolution was adopted.

The measure (ACR-156/SCR-136) was also sponsored by Assembly members Cleopatra Tucker and Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr.

“As a society, we should be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable residents, including residents with developmental disabilities and psychiatric concerns. No one can deny our system needs improving, but as we move to do so, we need to know exactly where we stand in caring for people with disabilities and mental health problems. That’s the goal of this panel,” added Vainieri Huttle.