Oct. 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – As members of the House Human Services Committee, Reps. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) and Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) today participated in a joint public hearing at the state Capitol with the House Health Committee to examine the recent decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) to close the White Haven (WHC) and Polk state centers and move residents into community-based settings.

Toohil and Heffley are co-sponsors of House Bill 1918, legislation that would place a moratorium on the closure of the two facilities. The bill is currently being reviewed by the House Health Committee and a vote is expected this week.

Toohil, Heffley and other members of the two committees heard testimony from a top DHS official, advocates for individuals with intellectual disabilities, employee union representatives and relatives of center residents.

“Deinstitutionalization is a national disgrace – a failed social experiment that has left 40 years of chaos, suffering, homelessness, abuse and neglect in its wake,” said Susan Jennings, mother of a WHC resident. “I implore you to support House Bill 1918 until a thorough study and investigation of all the consequences of such a grave and short-sighted decision can be evaluated.

“The notion that moving residents to community-based settings will be better for them is downright absurd,” testified Bill Hill, AFSCME Local 2334 president at WHC. “To be quite honest, I’m not sure if some of them will survive the transition. I believe this to be a matter of life and death, right vs. wrong.”

“There is such a thing as transfer trauma. That was talked about today. It’s a real problem,” Toohil said following the hearing. “Someone that’s been living in their home for 20 or 30 years – if they are moved, they could possibly die.”

To view a video of Toohil’s remarks, visit here.

“We need to make sure the individuals that are in these facilities are going to receive that same quality of care going forward,” added Heffley. “Right now, we have a system that works, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to dismantle it.”

To view a video of Heffley’s remarks, visit here.

Kristin Ahrens, DHS office of development programs deputy secretary testified that the state is caring for about 700 residents at the four state centers that remain in operation at an annual cost of up to $450,000 per individual. She said there are currently more than 40,000 people with disabilities living in community settings, with more than a quarter of them receiving care similar to what is offered at WHC and Polk.

“Given the advances in developing the community infrastructure and the wide array of options and supports that are now available, we see very low admissions to the remaining state centers and four centers are no longer necessary to meet this population’s needs,” said Ahrens. “We are confident that based on our experience, the needs of state center residents will be served just as well, if not better, in the community.”

“Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing that Pennsylvania still operates state-run institutions for people with intellectual disabilities,” said Sherri Landis, The Arc of Pennsylvania executive director. “We applaud the governor for continuing to move away from a segregated, state-center model of support to one that invests in the aspirations of people with disabilities – to experience life in their community, just like anyone else.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, Human Services Committee Chairman Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) announced that he will be a “yes” vote on House Bill 1918.

“I have serious concerns about the way this is proceeding,” said DiGirolamo. “This spring, I convened a public hearing where committee members learned from family members and stakeholders about the value and necessity of residential choice for individuals with severe and profound disabilities. One of these important options is Pennsylvania State Developmental Centers. By closing two of these, we are limiting choices for families and for those with disabilities.”

Link to Toohil’s broadcast-quality sot.

Link to Heffley’s broadcast-quality sot.

Representative Tarah Toohil
116th Legislative District
Representative Doyle Heffley
122nd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Andy Briggs
RepToohil.com / Facebook.com/RepToohil
RepHeffley.com / Facebook.com/RepHeffley