The Record: Compromise for the developmentally disabled

The Record Editorial

SOCIETY MUST be especially sensitive in caring for those with developmental disabilities. For years, many New Jersey residents with disabilities were sent to out-of-state treatment centers at the state's expense. Many were children with such conditions as severe autism and cerebral palsy. Now the state wants to change course.

Under a program with the very appealing name of Return Home New Jersey, the state wants those who have been receiving out-of-state treatment to be brought back to in-state facilities. And to make that option more palatable, the state has invested millions of dollars in community-based homes for the disabled. The state says no longer sending people out of state would save money that can be used to provide care for more people.

At first blush, some would think families with disabled children or other relatives out of state would want to have them return closer to their Jersey homes. It is not that simple. Some families note that their relatives have spent so much time in out-of-state facilities — most of their lives in some cases — that they would not be emotionally or psychologically able to handle a change in living arrangements. There are also concerns that care in New Jersey may not be comparable to some out-of-state locations.

The Legislature responded to those concerns by passing a bill to stop the relocation back to New Jersey, but the governor vetoed it.

Now, the Assembly Human Services Committee has endorsed a refined version of the bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, that seems like a good compromise. Rather than stop all transfers to New Jersey, the bill would just stop individuals from being relocated under certain conditions, including if family members live within 15 miles of the out-of-state residence.

Individuals also would be able to remain outside New Jersey if they have spent at least 20 years or 25 percent of their lives in an out-of-state location. They also would be allowed to stay where they're now living if they are deemed medically or behaviorally "fragile." That designation would apply if individuals need constant care, suffer uncontrollable seizures, are frequently hospitalized or are receiving, or about to receive, hospice care.

The Assembly committee acted after hearing from six families who objected to the administration's proposal. Some said that the plan already is causing them distress.

Saving money should not be the sole motivator in caring for the developmentally disabled. The overriding goal of meeting their needs is to ensure that the individuals and their families are treated with compassion and understanding. The bill endorsed last week would do that.