Saturday, 2:15 PM
State to close Fernald and 3 other institutions
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff
Governor Deval Patrick’s administration announced this afternoon that it would shutter four of six state-run mental institutions, including the Fernald Development Center in Waltham, and transfer residents to group homes.
It appears to mark the final chapter in a legal battle over whether to keep Fernald open, and also signals an end to the era of using state-run institutions to house the mentally retarded.
“It’s a victory,” said Leo Sarkasian, executive director of The ARC of Massachusetts, which advocates community-based settings for the developmentally disabled. “We recognize that disability should not be a reason to be segregated from the community.”
In addition to closing Fernald, which is based on a 196-acre campus in Waltham, the administration plans to close the Glavin Regional Center in Shrewsbury; the Monson Development Center in Palmer, and the Templeton Developmental Center in Baldwinville.
The closings will take place over the next four years, and current residents will either be transferred to community-based group housing or to one of the two state-run institutions that will remain open, the Wrentham Developmental Center and the Hogan Regional Center in Hawthorne.
“This expansion will create real choice for many people with developmental disabilities for whom the community has never been an option—all while providing equal or better care for the residents in a community setting,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. JudyAnn Bigby said in a statement. “As we have seen many times, individuals previously living in facilities have benefited from a community setting with the services and supports they need to live in dignity and independence.”
New England has seven institutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities, with six of them in Massachusetts.
About 900 people are in the state’s institutions, while more than 32,000 receive community-based services and supports. State officials estimate that 316 people will transition to community-based settings over the next four years.
The state has estimated that it costs $239,000 per person annually to care for residents at Fernald, compared with about $102,000 per person in a community setting.
Patrick, as well as his Republican predecessor Mitt Romney, has sought to close Fernald and transfer its residents to group homes.
A federal court judge ruled in August 2007 that residents had the right to stay, but Patrick successfully appealed the ruling in the US Court of Appeals.
Family members and advocates, who waged a lengthy court battle to improve conditions at Fernald in the 1970s, have continued to fight to keep Fernald open. Several advocates and family members, who are likely to be angered by today’s announcement, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.