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Legislation Would Require Individuals to be Placed within a 30-Mile Radius of Development Center

TRENTON – In response to the recent deaths of two North Jersey men who choked to death after being transferred into groups homes from the North Jersey Developmental Center, legislation sponsored by Senators Peter J. Barnes III and Joseph F. Vitale that would ensure that all individuals being transferred out of the state’s developmental centers would continue to receive the same level of care and services was unanimously approved today by the full Senate.

“We must do all that we can to ensure that we don’t see anymore tragedies with our disabled residents, particularly as we transfer the remaining residents out of the North Jersey and Woodbridge Developmental Centers,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “While the state has determined that people should be transferred into group homes rather than staying in these developmental centers, we must ensure that they do not lose quality of care in the process. Whether it be medical supervision to therapies provided, we need to provide care that is at minimum the same level as the developmental centers, for the sake of these individuals.”

The bill, S-2158, would require specific plans be created for each individual scheduled to be transitioned out of one of the state’s developmental centers and into group homes to ensure they are receiving comparable services and support in the community. Under the bill, the Department of Human Services would assign a transition case manager and community services manager to each individual scheduled to be transferred. The transition case manager would develop a customized plan including primary care services; physical and nutritional management; adaptive equipment; physical, occupational and speech therapy; services from a psychologist or social worker; and emergency services. The bill would require the community service case manager provide follow-up case management after the transition.

The bill would require a review of each individual’s placement plan 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, one year and two years following the transition to ensure that the individual is continuing to receive comparable care after the leave they developmental center.

The bill would also require that those individuals being placed in a community setting due to the closure of a developmental center, be placed in a group home no more than 30 miles from the developmental center unless otherwise preferred by the resident or their legal guardians.

“For individuals living at these developmental centers, communication and contact with their families and loved ones is important for their physical and mental well being,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “It is therefore incumbent on us to ensure that these families can realistically visit their loved ones without having to drive long distances.”

The 2011 Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers in binding recommendations determined that the WoodbridgeDevelopmentalCenter and the NorthJerseyDevelopmentalCenter must be closed by 2017. The state has expedited that timeline, planning to close the NorthJerseyCenter by next Tuesday and the WoodbridgeCenter by January 1, 2015. This Task Force’s decision was to help New Jersey be in accordance with the 1999 Supreme Court Decision Olmstead v. L.C., which requires an integration of individuals into the community and out of residential centers whenever appropriate.

As part of that transition, Richard Fornarotto and Steven Cortes, two intellectually-disabled men from the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa, were transferred to privately-run homes. Both died from choking on food at the group homes where they were residing.  The Senators note that while no direct evidence connecting the transfer to the deaths exists, they want to ensure that all those being moved into community living are receiving the same type of care and oversight that existed in the developmental centers.

The bill was approved by the Senate with a vote of 40-0. It now heads to the General Assembly for further consideration.  

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