May 8, 2019
The May 1 Post-Gazette article “Care for Those With Intellectual Disabilities is Debated,” was published in response to a hearing held by the state House of Representatives’ Human Services Committee. The announcement for the hearing never mentioned state centers but the clear intention was to hold a hearing on keeping these state-run institutions open. The only people invited to testify were those who support institutions. No one who supports community services over institutions was invited to testify.
It is important that legislators and the general public understand that the vast majority of people with intellectual disabilities live at home with their families or in community homes supported by direct-support professionals. More than 55,000 Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities receive publicly-funded community services compared to only 730 people who are still in state institutions. According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget, the annual cost per person in a state institution is $420,000, which is two to three times higher than the cost for community services.
The article quoted one legislator as saying, “If many of these residents could function well in a group home, they would be there.” But that is unequivocally not true. No person with an intellectual disability needs an institution. The truth is, a large number of the remaining 730 are not allowed to leave because their families won’t allow it.
This is due to the Benjamin settlement, a legal agreement that resulted from a lawsuit filed by institution supporters against the state. Benjamin takes the choice to leave an institution away from the person and gives it to their family. In some cases, the relative could be deceased yet still control the person’s life from the grave. Due to this settlement agreement, the only way a person can leave a state institution when his or her family objects is by dying or if the institution closes.
Legislation to finally close the remaining four institutions was introduced last legislative session. We ask the Legislature to pass that bill and give those 730 people the chance to live in the community just like everyone else.
Nancy Murray, Presudent
The Arc of GreaterPittsburgh/ACHIEVA