Christie Administration's Interpretation of a U.S. Supreme Court Decision Questioned
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 • 9:28am
The proposed closing of two of New Jersey’s Developmental Centers at Totowa and Woodbridge has elicited much controversy, debate and protests from the families of the residents of the centers. A joint legislative hearing was held at Montclair State University in February 2013 in order to collect testimony regarding the proposed closures. At the hearing, sponsored jointly by the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens and the Assembly Committee on Human Services, more than 600 people assembled to protest the proposed closings.
One of the issues that is rarely mentioned is the current State Administration has falsely cited the tenets of a United States Supreme Court decision in order to support their plan to deinstitutionalize .
The federal government became involved when, in 1995, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society filed litigation on behalf of two residents with intellectual disabilities who desired to live in the community and were denied the opportunity. Four years later, the United States Supreme Court rendered a decision in Olmstead v. L.C. & EW, 527 U.S. 581 (1999), that determined that involuntary civil commitment was a violation of Title II of the Americans With disabilities Act (ADA). In fact, the Court stated that people with “mental retardation” had the right to live in the community provided that: "the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities”.
Without question, it should be the right of any individual to reside in a community setting. Certainly, such living arrangements, such as group homes, should be available, provided that they meet the criteria that have been set by the Court. They must be less restrictive than the institutional setting, and appropriate services must be available and deliverable to the person with a disability.
Nevertheless, the Olmstead decision does not mandate that all people with developmental disabilities should be transferred to the community, nor does it state that the larger institutions should be closed. All people, including those with disabilities, are unique and have different needs. We need a variety of settings from a continuum that provides a variety of services.
At present, the families of the residents of the two developmental Centers have indicated that their loved ones would be separated from the only homes that they know. In addition, proposals coming from the State Administration suggest plans to place the residents in other parts of the State, making family visits all but impossible. At the February hearing at Montclair State University, testimony from several witnesses reported studies that indicate that the mortality rates among the residents will escalate as a result.
Nevertheless, the Administration continues to plan the closings, despite the protests and pleas from family members, and despite research that suggests that such a plan is medically unsound for the residents.
It is a sad fact that the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities is not a priority in the Statehouse. With such a message, does the quality of life for all New Jerseyans, whether disabled or non-disabled, have any value?
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