Senator Hutchinson’s Testimony Opposing Polk Center Closure

Senator Scott Hutchinson will provide the following testimony at the Department of Human Services (DHS) public hearing today (September 9) at Atlantic Avenue Church in Franklin on the planned proposed closure of the Polk State Center.

“Perhaps it is fitting that this hearing is being held so close to the anniversary of 9/11.

“Today I join so many others who are sending out a 9-1-1 message on behalf of the vulnerable residents of Polk Center and our entire community.  This recent closure announcement will wreak havoc upon the lives of folks who have lived here for decades in a safe and stable setting, and it will be a hard blow to our entire community that has witnessed more than our fair share of setbacks.  

“This move by DHS, better described as an eviction, will be disruptive beyond description for those who have known no other home.  Not only will their physical home change dramatically, their familiar, caring, professional, long time caregivers will change too.  The residents will be thrust into a group home industry that has well documented problems with high staff turnover and significant staff shortages. 

“The group home industry does not have the mandatory on-going training for care staff, nor is there 24 hour access to nursing and other specialized medical care necessary for these very fragile and medically complicated residents.  Those who have continued to choose Polk Center as their home feel that Polk is their ideal setting based upon their individual needs.  Why are you taking away this choice?

“So many questions remain unanswered after this surprise, rash decision.  Will those who require 24-hour observation continue to receive this service in the new setting?  What is the guarantee that the promises DHS makes to these individuals will last more than a few years?  What will happen to individuals whose diagnoses change in the out years and different services are needed? 

“As time marches on, will increased costs of living in the other settings be covered or will counties and other Social Service providers be forced to eat those costs?  Once the safety net provided by State Centers disappears, where will individuals who have floundered in other settings go?  Certainly there are far more questions than answers due to this poorly planned ambush.

“In closing, I think we can agree on one thing.  We should be more sufficiently using the massive infrastructure included on the beautiful Polk Center campus.  I believe that not only should Polk remain open as the home for these residents, I think that DHS should be open to suggestions to simultaneously do more things here on the campus. 

“One idea would be to expand Polk Center’s mission, for it to continue to serve as a residence but also to serve as a “Center of Excellence” to train and assist caregivers statewide and nationwide for all persons with disabilities.  Polk has a reputation for great expertise, and certainly there will be more and more individuals with complex behavioral issues who will have great difficulty living in the community.  Polk’s professional staff can help other agencies and providers raise the level of their staff’s expertise, as well as serve as an innovator for care and serve as a “trouble shooter” and consultant when individuals in other settings exhibit new challenges. 

“Another idea, while remaining a long term home for residents,  Polk Center should be marketed and utilized as a place for respite care for short term stays when outside family caregivers need a break.  The existence of the safe, stable safety net for challenged individuals should be utilized. 

“Third, some statewide plan should be developed for aging individuals with intellectual disabilities instead of sending them to regular nursing homes who have no particular expertise with this fragile population.  Polk Center would be a great option as it meshes perfectly with their current services. 

“These ideas and more have been suggested to me in the last several weeks — Many other ideas could be developed if DHS stops their insistence on closure just to fulfill some unrealistic utopian vision.

“In the interest of time, I have attached a copy of a letter I previously sent to Governor Wolf which provides more discussion about the wrong-headed direction DHS has embarked upon.  I ask that it be included in the formal record of this hearing.”

 

Contact:          Justin Leventry           (717) 787-9684           jleventry@pasen.gov

Note: A copy of Senator Hutchinson’s letter to Governor Wolf is attached with this release.