State officials Thursday announced plans to close by June 30 two state-run facilities that provide residential care for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The move was pegged as a “change in strategic direction” as the state looks to outsource those services to private providers to save money.
“With state-operated centers often costing more than independent providers, the plan aims to right-size the amount of services provided directly by [the Department of Developmental Services] and instead expand services to a wider number of people who may not currently have access to them,” read a press release announcing the closures of the Ella T. Grasso Regional Center in Stratford and Meriden Regional Center in Meriden. “This plan, as part of a broader change in strategic direction for the agency, will allow state dollars to go further by serving more people.”
The 40 residents who live at the two facilities will have the choice of relocating to one of the three other state-run centers – in Norwalk, Newington and Torrington – or moving into a community-based setting.
The department currently operates six institutions for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities – the five regional centers and Southbury Training School. At the same time, close to 2,000 people have been waiting for DDS-funded residential services, such as placement in a group home or assistance that would allow them to live in more independent setting. Many families of those waiting say they’ve been told their loved ones would not receive services until their caregivers die or become unable to provide care.
Families of those waiting and advocates have been calling for the state to close the institutions, saying it would free up millions of dollars that could be spent serving more people in community settings. But families of people at Southbury and the regional centers have pushed back, saying it would be unfair to force their loved ones to move from the places they have lived for decades.
The department reports it costs, on average, $247,833 per resident at the state-run regional centers compared to $113,860 per resident at privately-run group homes.
A DDS spokeswoman said it has not been determined how much will be saved from closing the two regional centers, since it is unclear what services residents will choose. The 171 workers at the facilities will be offered vacant jobs elsewhere in state government.
Leslie Simoes, executive director of The Arc of Connecticut, which has been calling for the closure of the state-run institutions so more people can be served in the community, called the move “a big step,” and said she was particularly pleased that the department had characterized the move as a way to reallocate funds to serve more people.
But Simoes also said she was concerned that regional center residents could end up in other state-run facilities, rather than in less costly private facilities, and questioned how much money would be saved and put toward serving those who are waiting for assistance.
“We’re very happy, and we’re also cautious at the same time,” she said.
The union that represents workers at the regional centers, SEIU 1199, took issue with the decision.
“It is very concerning that guardians of loved ones in these centers do not appear to be part of the decision making process. Shuffling clients from one facility to another to save money is not how we should be caring for our most vulnerable,” spokeswoman Jennifer Schneider said. “These clients deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Forcing clients to leave workers and a home they have known for decades has detrimental effects and DDS needs to do better by these clients.”
Jeffrey Walter, interim CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Providers, which represents private agencies that contract with the state, called the move encouraging, and said private providers can help to address immediate and long-term service issues and the state’s budget challenges.
In a statement, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he was committed to “providing quality services to the highest number of people possible with the best possible outcomes.”
“Even though we’re in a new economic reality, we are doing the best we can to preserve funding for community residential services next year and find efficiencies where we can among existing services,” Malloy said. “We must rebalance our priorities to ensure that we can serve more families in need of services within our budget realities. I am certain DDS will handle these transitions in a thoughtful and sensitive manner.”
The regional centers also provide respite services, allowing caregivers for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities to get a break.
The state, facing major budget shortfalls in recent years, has regularly cut funding to DDS. The agency is also facing additional cuts next fiscal year as the state grapples with a looming $900 million shortfall.
The state budget for next fiscal year that Malloy proposed in February did not call for closing institutions or funding more community residential services, but did call for privatizing 30 publicly run group homes that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, forecasting a $6.2 million savings.
State legislators in December passed a law that calls for DDS to develop a report on a plan to close Southbury Training School and the five regional centers by Dec. 31.