TRENTON – In response to the 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 services and support they need was approved today by the full Senate.
“While the state continues to ease the transition of individuals into these communities, we must ensure that residents do not lose the quality of care in the process,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. Safety must be a primary concern for residents with disabilities living in community placements, whether it be medical supervision to therapies provided or an assessment of each individual’s health.”
All residents with disabilities deserve the quality of care provided to them at developmental centers just as well in their new homes,” said Senator Barnes, D-Middlesex. “While the state continues to ease the transition of individuals into these communities, we must ensure that residents do not lose this care in the process. Safety must be a primary concern for disabled residents staying in these placements, whether it be medical supervision to therapies provided or assessing each individual’s health.”
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 community placements to ensure they are receiving necessary services and support in the community. Community placement is defined as a group home, apartment, or supportive housing arrangement which provides services and supports to an individual with a developmental disability.
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 outlined in each patient’s service plan. The bill would require the community service case manager provide follow-up case management after the transition.
In addition, the bill would require a review of each individual’s placement plan 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and annually following the transition to ensure that the individual is continuing to receive necessary care after they leave the 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 where feasible.
“Connecting residents with their families and loved ones should be a factor when transitioning residents to the community, especially when it comes to their physical and mental well-being,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “We must ensure that wherever possible visits for family members, friends and significant others be less of a challenge due to long distances.”
The 2011 Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers in binding recommendations determined that the Woodbridge Developmental Center and the North Jersey Developmental Center must be closed by 2017. The state expedited that timeline, closing the North Jersey Center on July 1, 2014 and the Woodbridge Center on January 1st of this year. 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.
Due to the closures, 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 last year. 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 which includes the governor’s recommendations, was approved by the Senate with a vote of 40-0. It now heads to the General Assembly for further consideration.