Effort to Halt Closure of Polk and White Haven State Centers Continues with Committee Passage of Closure Moratorium

Harrisburg –The ongoing effort to halt the closure of the Polk State Center and White Haven State Center advanced today with Senate committee passage of legislation sponsored by Senator Scott Hutchinson (R-21), Senator John Yudichak (I-14), Senator Michele Brooks (R-50) and Senator Lisa Baker (R-20).

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed Senate Bill 924, which would prevent closure of those centers for a minimum of five years and create the Task Force on the Closure of State Facilities to analyze and manage the closure of any state center.

“The families of Polk and White Haven residents deserve to have a voice and a choice in the care of their loved ones.  For many residents, Polk and White Haven are the only homes they have ever known, and they and their families want to remain there, to avoid the chaos and confusion of a forced move that may fail to provide the level of care needed for their loved ones to live the fullest life possible. The home for our most fragile and medically complex Pennsylvanians should be decided by loving parents, siblings and families, not by the government,” said Senator Michele Brooks, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. 

“Since the shocking announcement that these two facilities would close, local residents and officials have not been shown evidence that this was a fair process,” Senator Lisa Baker said. “It certainly did not represent inclusionary decision making. Nor have they been convinced there is a better future for the residents, families, workers, or host communities. This failure on the part of the Wolf administration increases the necessity for moratorium legislation.”

“Especially in light of the COVID pandemic, it is critical that we stop the announced closure of Polk and reassess the Wolf Administration’s half-baked decision to move these fragile individuals out of the only home they have ever known, where they currently receive comprehensive and loving care,” Senator Scott Hutchinson said.

“Polk and White Haven centers are loving homes operated by caring staff who consider themselves family to the residents. Families have selected these facilities to care for their loved ones for exactly this reason,” Senator John Yudichak said. “I have first-hand experience with this, given my mother worked at White Haven Center for many years. Moving residents to other facilities could be traumatic, especially for those who have severe disabilities. Pennsylvania residents deserve to have a choice and this legislation brings stakeholders to the table so we can assist and defend one of our state’s most vulnerable populations.”

The senators introduced similar legislation in the previous legislative session. The measure was approved by the General Assembly but vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.

CONTACTS: 

(Sen. Hutchinson) Justin Leventry jleventry@pasen.gov (717) 787-9684   

(Sen. Yudichak) Scot Pitzer: spitzer@pasen.gov (717) 705-7734       

(Sen. Baker) Kate Flessner kflessner@pasen.gov (717) 787-7428

(Sen. Brooks) Diane McNaughton dmmcnaughton@pasen.gov (717) 787-1322

Senate Sends Legislation to Delay Polk Center Closure to Governor

Senator Scott Hutchinson (R-21), Senator John Yudichak (I-14), Senator Michele Brooks (R-50), and Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) announced that the Senate concurred today on House amendments made to legislation to place a moratorium on the closure of the Polk and White Haven State Centers. Senate Bill 906 now goes to Governor Wolf’s desk.

 “I join with the families that would be impacted by the closure of the Polk Center in thanking my colleagues for sending this bill to the Governor,” said Senator Hutchinson. “We have done our very best to stop this wrongheaded decision to close Polk and White Haven. It is now up to Governor Wolf to decide whether the residents of these centers – our most vulnerable citizens – will continue receiving the quality care that they need and want.”

Senate Bill 906 creates the Task Force on the Closure of State Facilities to analyze and manage the closure of any state center and prevents a closure of those centers for a minimum of five years.

 “Senate Bill 906 is a bipartisan, bicameral piece of legislation that will allow Pennsylvania families to choose the best level of care for their loved ones with intellectual disabilities by prohibiting the closure of White Haven Center and Polk State Center,” said Senator Yudichak. “Efforts to close White Haven State Center and Polk State Center by the Department of Human Services are essentially driven by a misguided belief that special interest groups, not families, know what is best for individuals who have called these state centers home for decades. All that we are asking for in Senate Bill 906 is that the choice and interests of every family who cares and loves an individual with intellectual disabilities be valued equally.”

“We remain firmly committed to protecting the most vulnerable of the vulnerable and giving Polk and White Haven residents and their families the voice and the choice they deserve,” said Senator Brooks, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “Choosing where residents live is truly a life-and- death decision for them, especially in light of the federal Inspector General Report on widespread noncompliance with laws governing abuse, injury and death in group homes. Forcing residents into a community setting that may not be appropriate for their acuity level, or into a state center located even further away from family members, would be a painful unilateral mandate that ignores their wishes and removes them from a home where they feel safe, protected and loved.”

“This is an important step toward recognizing the rights of the residents of the two institutions, their families and the workers, who deserve a more deliberative process in deciding their future. There is a larger principle at stake as well. Legislators have a role in establishing, funding and overseeing state institutions. That involvement does not suddenly terminate because a governor arbitrarily decides to pursue closure,” said Senator Baker.

 

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

Committee Approves Legislation to Delay Polk Center Closure

State Senators Scott Hutchinson (R-21), John Yudichak (D-14), Michele Brooks (R-50), and Lisa Baker (R-20) announced today (October 22) that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee passed Senate Bill 906, which establishes a moratorium on closing the Polk and White Haven State Centers. 

Their joint statement:

“The residents of Polk and White Haven are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. We need to be their voice. The residents and families deserve full transparency, a well-thought-out plan, and the active input of residents, families, staff, and other affected individuals.  Before we close the doors on two facilities that have been the only home many residents have ever known, we must consider the wishes of the families, the complex needs of the residents, and the capacity of every community to meet those needs.

Today’s action represents another step forward in protecting the people who live at White Haven and Polk State Centers, their families and the employees at the Centers from this unilateral decision made by the Department of Human Services. We also want to ensure that any future closures being considered by DHS are made in an open and transparent manner that includes participation by family members of our most vulnerable citizens.”

SB 906 would do the following:

  • Prohibits the Department of Human Services from closing a state facility until all Medicaid waiver-eligible individuals in the Commonwealth are authorized to begin receiving home and community-based services.
  • Requires DHS to provide notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin when all individuals have received authorization to begin home and community-based services.
  • Establishes the Task Force on the Closure of State Centers upon publication of notice.
  • Requires the Secretary of DHS to convene an initial meeting of the task force within 60 days.

Companion legislation, House Bill 1918, passed in the House Health Committee today as well.

Click here for Senator Hutchinson’s comments on the bill.

Click here for video of the committee meeting.

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

Senators Call for Probe of DHS Decision to Close State Centers

A group of Senators has called on state Inspector General Bruce Beemer to investigate the process that led to the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) announced plans to close the Polk State Center and the White Haven State Center.

Senators Scott Hutchinson (R-21), Michele Brooks (R-50), Lisa Baker (R-20) and John Yudichak (D-14) sent a letter to Inspector General Beemer citing a number of troubling issues that led them to question the actions taken by DHS.

“The Department’s decision to close both Polk and White Haven State Centers could have life-or-death consequences for the residents who reside there,” the Senators wrote.  “Due to the seriousness of the issue we believe a full investigation of the Department’s deliberations and decision-making process is warranted.”

The Senators questioned the lack of notification provided to residents of the Centers and their families, significant internal communication problems and potential conflict of interest issues in their letter to the Inspector General.

Senators’ letter to Inspector General Beemer.

CONTACT: 

Justin Leventry (Senator Hutchinson)            (717) 787-9684         jleventry@pasen.gov       

Diane McNaughton (Senator Brooks)            (717) 787-1322         dmmcnaughton@pasen.gov

Andrew Seder (Senator Baker)                       (570) 226-5960         aseder@pasen.gov

Carly Simpson (Senator Yudichak)    (717) 787-7105         carly.simpson@pasenate.com

 

Legislation Would Delay Polk Center Closure

Legislation will soon be introduced in the Senate that would place a moratorium on the closure of the Polk and White Haven State Centers, according to Senator Scott Hutchinson, a co-sponsor and strong supporter of the measure.

“The Department of Human Services (DHS) is seemingly unmoved by the heartfelt appeals from the families of the residents who will be uprooted by the closure of these centers,” Senator Hutchinson said. “This move by DHS will be disruptive beyond description for those who have known no other home.  That means it is incumbent on the Legislature to take action to protect these vulnerable individuals.”

The legislation will delay the closure of Polk and White Haven as a way to give the state and families time to develop a stable safety net for the residents. 

“I continue to believe that the very best solution would be a total reversal of decision to close the facility and perhaps even an expansion of the services provided by the Polk Center,” Senator Hutchinson said. “But at the very least this moratorium will provide additional time to take steps to protect the well-being of its residents.”

 

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

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.