VAN DREW FIGHTS TO SAVE THE VINELAND DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER : News Room : The Van Drew Team for Change : Jeff Van Drew, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land
I’m a big believer that during tough economic times there must be shared sacrifice. But in the recently proposed state budget, Cumberland County residents are unfairly being asked to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden.
The state has proposed closing the Vineland Developmental Center, displacing nearly 400 residents living in the facility and leaving more than 1,400 workers without jobs. The immediate impact would be devastating. And the closure would set off a ripple effect that, over time, would bring our region’s economy to a grinding halt.
I vowed to fight this plan along with my Assembly colleagues Matt Milam and Nelson Albano because, from the outset, the proposal was problematic. A move like this would dramatically alter the lives of thousands of people, yet the state’s intent to shutter the facility was made public with no warning to local leaders and no notice to the individuals it would affect most.
What’s more, in the days following the budget introduction, it became increasingly clear the decision to close the facility was predetermined, and not developed through a logical evaluation of the facts. In a letter to residents explaining the closure, the state Department of Human Services cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, a landmark ruling requiring states to provide community living options for individuals with disabilities who do not need institutionalized care. The center’s closure, state officials said, “advances New Jersey’s progress in this regard.”
I recognize the important principles expressed in Olmstead. But if, in fact, the state is moving to transition residents from developmental centers, the responsible way to do so is to put forward a comprehensive plan and to create guidelines by which the state will make its decisions regarding all seven of New Jersey’s developmental centers. Arbitrarily shuttering facilities, by simply pulling financial support from them in the state budget, is entirely unfair. The state estimates that 2,700 people live in the state’s facilities, and more than 80 percent have lived in a developmental center since childhood. Residents and families deserve and, in most cases require, predictability — not to be blindsided by a budget proposal that fails to provide any reasonable basis for the decision.
Along with Milam and Albano, I’m working to reverse this proposal and to ensure that residents, their families and members of the community have their voices heard. In the coming weeks, the public will get a chance to weigh in on the proposed closure at a Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee meeting that is being held at my request. Additionally, in my role as a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I will press Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez for a full accounting of the state’s decision-making process and for a complete report of its plan for moving forward.
The state owes it to us to explain in detail why the Vineland Developmental Center was chosen for closure, while other state facilities were left untouched. It owes it to the center’s residents and their families, many whose loved ones require critical care, to publicly discuss its plan as well as viable alternatives. And the state owes it to the residents of Cumberland County to acknowledge the devastating economic impact a closure would have on our communities, and to discuss the issue with the more than 1,400 workers, already struggling to remain afloat in this economy, who — under the state’s proposal — would lose their jobs.