State intends to close Polk Center within 3 years; public meetings scheduled

Pa. Dept. of Human ServicesThe Polk Center in Polk, Venango County, is a state-run intermediate care facility for people with intellectual disabilities. It was established in 1897.

HARRISBURG (AP) — Pennsylvania officials have announced plans to close two of the remaining state centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities over the next three years.

The Department of Human Services said Tuesday that public meetings will be held next month to gather comment on the plans to close the Polk State Center in Venango County in western Pennsylvania and the White Haven State Center in northeastern Pennsylvania’s Luzerne County.

The Polk center serves 194 residents and the White Haven center serves 112 people.

Officials say the commonwealth has steadily closed most state centers since the 1960s “when best practices turned toward community-based settings and away from institutions.”

Fifty years ago, the department served more than 13,000 people with intellectual disabilities in state-operated facilities, but today fewer than 720 receive care in such facilities, officials said.

The department, citing last year’s closure of the Hamburg State Center, promised to work with residents and families, meet with potential community service providers and come up with “individualized transition plans.” Officials said every Hamburg center staff member who expressed interest in continued work for the state was offered a job prior to closure or in the one-year contractual placement period afterward.

Peri Jude Radecic, CEO of Disability Rights Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the announcement was the result of “decades of movement away from institutional living in Pennsylvania.”

Nancy Murray, president of The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh at ACHIEVA, also praised the decision, saying her group was “very, very happy for the hundreds of people who are currently living in state institutions that they will be able to move to community homes.”

But the decision was criticized by state Rep. Gerald Mullery and Thomas Kashatus of Glen Lyon, whose daughter has been a patient at the White Haven Center for 38 years, The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader reported. Mullery, D-Newport Township, said White Haven was “the only home many of the residents have ever known,” and while some argued community care would be more cost-effective “it certainly won’t be the same.”

Kashatus said his daughter had always received excellent care at White Haven but their earlier experience with a group home wasn’t as positive.

In a statement, state Rep. Tedd Nesbit (R-Mercer/Butler) said he is “sad to learn that the Department of Human Services will be closing the Polk and White Haven State centers in 2022. I know the closing of these centers will result in hundreds of lost jobs and will negatively affect our region’s economy and communities.

“Additionally, I am disappointed that the governor and his administration made this unilateral decision without seeking input from my office and other state representatives in our region”

He encouraged encourage affected constituents to attend the public meetings and voice their concerns. The Polk Center public hearing will be from 1 to 4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9, at Atlantic Avenue Church, 160 Atlantic Ave. in Franklin.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Human Services said Polk had 737 workers and 197 residents. The center’s resident population peaked in 1955 at more than 3,400.

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