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Judge bars state from closing Fernald Development Center

Posted by Ralph Ranalli August 15, 2007 01:32 PM

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Joan Hanlon, a resident at the Fernald Development Center since the age of two, spends some time in the pool with staffer Linda Bonilla.
(Globe staff photo by Suzanne Kreiter)

WALTHAM

A federal judge yesterday halted the state's plan to close the Fernald Development Center in Waltham, ruling that the profoundly mentally retarded residents who have lived there for decades must be given the opportunity to stay.

US District Judge Joseph L. Tauro found there has been a "systemic failure" by the state to consider the individual needs of longtime Fernald residents by pushing its plan to close state institutions and transfer residents to community-based group homes or smaller facilities, reporter Shelley Murphy of the Globe's City & Region staff reports today.

In a seven-page ruling, Tauro said he agreed with the results of a court-ordered investigation by US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, who concluded in March that for some Fernald residents a transfer "could have devastating effects that unravel years of positive, nonabusive behavior."

Tauro said his ruling does not mean the state may never close Fernald, which currently houses about 185 residents.

"It does mean, however, that the Department of Mental Retardation must carefully assess the needs and wishes of each resident and provide a genuine and meaningful opportunity for their guardians to participate in their placement decisions," he wrote.

The state could now urge a federal appeals court to overturn Tauro's decision. It could continue to operate the facility as it is or choose to sell off part of the 190-acre property for development while continuing to care for remaining residents.

Juan Martinez, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said in a statement: "We are currently reviewing the memorandum and order issued by Judge Tauro today so that we may better understand them and decide how best to respond. In the meantime, the Patrick Administration has not made a decision on the future of Fernald."

Read more about Tauro's ruling in the online edition of today's Globe.

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