Vainieri Huttle, Eustace, Diegnan & Giblin Bill to Study Transition of Former State Developmental Center Residents Advances in Senate

Legislation Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and Thomas P. Giblin sponsored to study the transition of former residents of two state developmental centers slated to close was released on Monday by a Senate panel.

The bill (A-1098) would require the Department of Human Services to conduct follow-up studies to assess the well-being of former residents of North Jersey Developmental Center and Woodbridge Developmental Center. The studies would evaluate all individuals who made a transition from the centers into community housing after August 1, 2012 and have lived away from a developmental center for at least six months. Additional assessments would be conducted for each of the five years after the closure of both centers.

“North Jersey and Woodbridge Developmental Centers provided access to the special resources their residents needed while also giving their families the ability to visit and provide all-important emotional support,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Ideally – for the benefit of the residents and their loved ones – we would have kept these facilities open. However, given the administration’s decision to close them, it is now our duty to make sure that their former residents have the care and opportunities they need and deserve, which is why this bill is so important.”

Following the recommendation of the Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers in an August 2012 report, North Jersey Developmental Center, located in Totowa, will close at the start of next month. Woodbridge Developmental Center is scheduled to close in 2017.

“It is our duty to ensure that every New Jersey resident with a developmental disability receives the care and support he or she needs to thrive physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This legislation is about our commitment to stand up for the rights of some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable men and women.”

“These state developmental centers provided outstanding care in our communities, and it’s unfortunate that their residents have been displaced in this way,” Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “This legislation is a declaration that we understand and take very seriously our responsibility to safeguard the overall health and happiness of New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities.”

“Our developmental centers provide vital support to many New Jersey families,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “Ensuring that former residents of North Jersey and Woodbridge can maintain the same quality of services is critical during this transition, and this bill will go a long way toward making certain that happens.”

The studies would examine data including, but not limited to: an individual’s ability to maintain the same level of services and supports provided prior to his or her leaving a center, behavioral changes, contact with family members and peers and competence in the areas of cognition, self-care and mobility.

As per the bill, the Department of Human Services would submit a report of the follow-up studies to the governor and the Legislature one year after the effective date of the bill and then once annually until both centers have closed. Furthermore, additional reports on follow-up studies would be issued to the governor and the Legislature once annually during each of the five years following the closure of both centers. All reports would also be available on the DHS website.

Under the bill, studies conducted by DHS and the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs respectively would also assess the wellness of former residents of state psychiatric hospitals and state veterans’ memorial homes that have implemented plans to close. DHS and DMVA would have to submit their reports one year after the start of the implementation of the plan to close a facility and annually thereafter for five years after it has closed. The reports would also be available on the respective agency’s website.

The bill was released by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee after having passed in the Assembly 75-0 in March.