Governor, close Southbury, other similar state-run institutions

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In anticipation of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, celebrated on July 26, 2015, the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities sent the following letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy. The Council has called on the governor to close all state institutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities by the year 2020.

Dear Gov. Malloy,

On Friday, July 10, Oklahoma closed the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center. It thereby became the 15th state to close all state-operated institutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities (I/DD). Later this year, Tennessee is slated to become the 16th such state.

Connecticut likes to think of itself as a progressive state. Yet when it comes to the civil rights of those with I/DD, we are not. As Connecticut clings to a discredited institutional approach, many states — including Oklahoma and Tennessee — will observe the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with none of their citizens isolated in segregated I/DD institutions. Sadly, “progressive” Connecticut will not be able to do the same.

In this past legislative session, your administration opposed Senate Bill 1088,  which would have created a plan for the orderly closure of Connecticut’s remaining five state-operated institutions. This opposition came despite the overwhelming evidence, based on longitudinal research conducted on individuals who moved from institutions to homes in the community, that community-based living is better for all individuals with I/DD, regardless of age, severity of disability or length of time that they lived in an institution.

Closing Connecticut’s segregated state-operated institutions is important for two reasons.

First and foremost, people with intellectual disabilities, like all citizens, have the right to live, work and participate fully in their communities. It is a basic civil right recognized by Congress under the ADA and, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Olmstead case.

But closure is also important because the cost of state-operated institutions is staggeringly high and increasing every year.

According to the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities Report of the University of Colorado, in 2013, Connecticut reported it spent $413,615 per person on the approximately 500 individuals living in its five institutions. Only four states spent more, and two of them were on the cusp of permanent closure of their institutions.

We know that appropriate community-based services can be provided for individuals living in their own homes for less than half the cost of institutional care, for even those with the most complex needs, yet Connecticut stubbornly refuses to plan for the orderly closure of its institutions. Money misspent on institutions is money that could have been used to provide housing for the thousands who languish on Connecticut’s waiting list for residential services.

How Connecticut, or more specifically you, governor, on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and 22 years after Mansfield Training School closed its doors, can still equivocate about closing Connecticut’s remaining institutions, is hard to fathom.

How can you, who champions the civil rights of so many others, ignore the right of our citizens with intellectual disabilities to live as fully participating members of their communities, just like their non-disabled peers? How can you believe that it is acceptable for more than 2,000 intellectually disabled adults to wait for residential services because Connecticut stubbornly refuses to abandon its inefficient, expensive and outmoded institutions?

You do not need a new law to close state-operated institutions. As governor, you simply must decide that operating institutions where individuals are segregated solely because of their disability is wrong, and that Connecticut will not do it any longer. The vital details of a closure plan can then follow, including a detailed transition process for residents and families.

Luckily there are 15 — and soon there will be 16 — different models from other states to look to for guidance –but the first step is to have the courage to do the right thing.

I urge you to use this, the 25th anniversary of the ADA, as the occasion to announce the closure of Connecticut’s remaining state-operated institutions by the year 2020.

Shelagh P. McClure is chair of the  Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities.

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