Halt transfers of the developmentally disabled

“Home,” wrote poet Robert Frost, “is, the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

In New Jersey, at least for the 467 developmentally disabled adults living outside New Jersey — in 13 different states — that definition has been perverted. New Jersey will send you back here even if you and/or your family think you would be better off in an out-of-state facility.

It is time to stop that practice, at least until it can be fully examined. A bill by Assembly Human Services Committee Chairwoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, which would do just that, was approved Monday by the Assembly by a vote of 62 to 10.

The companion bill should be moved out of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and approved by the full Senate. Then, Gov. Chris Christie should sign the bill into law.

The Assembly bill would place a moratorium on transferring people from out-of-state facilities if the transfer is opposed by the individual or the individual’s guardian, or if the person has lived in a facility for 10 years or more.

In addition, the bill also would prevent such transfers if a medical evaluation indicated that moving back to New Jersey would be harmful to a person’s health or safety.

The reasons the state has given for initiating its “Return Home New Jersey” program do not outweigh the benefits of at least a temporary cessation of moving people from the places they call home.

On one level, the move seems to be a simple money grab by the state.

A December 2013 Office of Legislative Services audit of the Division of Developmental Disabilities estimated New Jersey could increase its Medicaid reimbursements by $20.7 million a year if all of its developmentally disabled adults were moved back home.

The goal here should not be using the disabled as pawns in a maneuver to fatten the state’s coffers, without regard to their health, safety or well being.

But it is not simply a financial issue, state officials argue. They say that these individuals would benefit by their placement in smaller, home-based settings, where they would more likely become members of the local community in which they find themselves.

That is a subject of debate, and that debate should be had before the state continues to turn the developmentally disabled into forced refugees without regard to their specific needs or the wishes of their family. The state must not ignore the concerns of the parents of the severely disabled, who argue correctly, in our view, that a blanket policy covering all developmentally disabled adults is ill-advised and unfair.

Huttle’s bill is both wise and compassionate and should be passed quickly.

Until questions regarding the benefits of returning these vulnerable citizens are fully answered, the transfers from out of state should cease.

Original article