Andrew Kitchenman NJ Spotlight

Families of people with developmental disabilities are stepping up their efforts to allow some of them to continue to live in residential facilities outside of the state.

They’re supporting a bill, S-2600/A-3975, that would benefit a more limited group of developmentally disabled residents than a measure vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie last year.

The new bill would benefit those who have spent at least a quarter of their lives in out-of-state facilities; those who have lived outside New Jersey for at least four years and are medically fragile, and those whose parents live within 15 miles of where they are now located.

While more than 400 developmentally disabled New Jersey residents live outside the state, bill supporters say the measure would affect only the roughly 45 of them whose families have indicated that they would prefer that they remain in their current homes.

The bill conditionally vetoed by Christie would have placed a moratorium on transfers of residents back into the state.

Christie asked for changes to the measure that would have largely eliminated its effect; neither house of the Legislature has acted on his recommendations.

The program, called Return Home New Jersey, is part of an overall effort by the state government to concentrate services for residents with intellectual and other developmental disabilities in community group homes.

This effort includes closing state developmental centers, which are large residential facilities that some family members have said are essential to maintaining residents’ well-being.

State officials have cited a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case, Olmstead v. L.C., that requires that disabled residents live in the least restrictive, appropriate environment.

They’ve received support from large organizations that advocate for disabled residents, who argue that group homes will benefit more people.

Opponents of Return Home New Jersey and the developmental center closures have said that the group homes are inappropriate for some disabled people and that the federal government allows larger facilities to continue to serve these residents.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), a sponsor of the new bill , noted that it has gained bipartisan support and that the primary state Senate sponsor is a Republican, Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). She said she’s hopeful that Christie will agree to the new version.

“This issue certainly transcends politics,” Huttle said.

Maureen Clark, whose adult daughter Maura has lived at a facility called Woods in Langhorne, PA, for most of her life, said it is essential that Maura live in a facility with 24-hour access to onsite medical care.

“It’s like one size fits all,” Clark said of the state’s approach. “These are social workers making medical decisions.”

Marcia Adams, whose 31-year-old son Drew also lives at Woods, said the state has recommended transferring him to group homes that are two to four times more distant than the Pennsylvania facility. She said state officials were unwilling to reschedule a meeting with a state-recommended group home provider after Adams notified the state that a family member had died and that there would be a funeral on the date of the hearing.

“We are asking you to please protect our son and the others like him and pass” the bill, she said.

Rita O’Grady said she supports the bill despite the fact that her son Tyler Loftus, who has autism, wouldn’t benefit from it, since he’s already been returned to the state.

Loftus was never hospitalized in six years at Woods, but spent 77 days last year in psychiatric hospitals, emergency rooms and jails due to his severe behavioral issues. His case gained statewide attention last year, when he was jailed after being evicted from a group home after becoming violent.

“There’s no consistency in the training of group-home staff,” O’Grady said.