BY MICHAEL PHILLIS, STATE HOUSE BUREAU
In the wake of two choking deaths of severely disabled residents moved from developmental centers, lawmakers moved Thursday to stop patient transfers until the deaths are investigated and evaluations of the moving process can be completed.
The state is planning to close two of its seven developmental centers, which care for people with disabilities. Closing the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa and the Woodbridge Developmental Center would necessitate moving hundreds of people.
State officials say transitioning residents from these centers to privately run facilities with more community access is helpful and can save money.
“The urgency today is because of the two confirmed deaths,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood.
“It’s about the most vulnerable people in New Jersey,” she said. Huttle said that she wanted to slow the process for closing the facilities down until there was proof everyone could be properly cared for.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services said previously there was no “causal connection” between their transitions from the developmental centers and the deaths.
The bill was released by the Assembly Human Services Committee on a 4-2 vote. The measure appears unlikely to become law. It would have to be signed by Governor Christie, whose administration initiated the plan to close the developmental centers.
Opponents of the bill said closing the centers now makes sense.
“We just feel it is a little late in the process to be stopping and hitting the pause button on these transfers,” said Sharon Levine, a lobbyist for the Arc of New Jersey, a disability advocacy organization.
“Those people are planning the next phase of their life if we put a moratorium on that those people will have to now pause and a lot of them are excited about moving into the community,” Levine said.
The bill would also halt the transfer of people with disabilities that receive care out of state from being transferred against their will to a facility in New Jersey.
The initiative, called the “Returning Home New Jersey,” seeks to move people from out of state closer to their families. Some families, however, expressed fear that their loved one would be upset by the disruption in their lives and receive a lower quality of care.