State to close two care centers

Facilities in Ebensburg, Selinsgrove remain

A local state representative is warning area residents that vigilance will be needed to ensure the Ebensburg State Center remains open after the state announced Wednesday that it will close two similar facilities.

State Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown, issued the warning in a release after the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services on Wednesday said that it will close facilities providing care to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Venango and Luzerne counties before the end of 2022.

The closures will leave only the Ebensburg State Center in Cambria County and Selinsgrove Center in Snyder County remaining, and some are urging they be closed.

A similar center in Altoona closed in 2006.

After an effort two years ago to close the Ebensburg center, Burns said Gov. Tom Wolf gave assurances that he wouldn’t close the facility through the 2018-19 fiscal year, which has now expired. The Ebensburg facility offers specialized care for nearly 225 severely mentally and physically disabled adults and employs about 700.

“My radar screen has lit up like a pinball machine now that the plan to close Polk State Center in Venango County and White Haven State Center in Luzerne County has been revealed,” Burns said in a release. “It’s an early warning system for those of us who were — and would again be — deeply disturbed at the prospect of losing the Ebensburg State Center forever.”

“The state just got done stashing away $800 million in June. It doesn’t make sense to start kicking the most vulnerable among us to the curb in August,” Burns said. “These people need round-the-clock care, and those of us who believe in keeping these facilities open — be they in Venango, Luzerne or Cambria counties — again need to make our voices heard.”

DHS Secretary Teresa Miller in a statement said, “Over the past 120 years, thousands of Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities lived some or all their lives in Polk and White Haven state centers. …”

“We recognize their history and commend the work that center staff have done to support these individuals and their families, but we also must commit to a future that truly includes individuals with disabilities and offers them an everyday life as fully integrated members of our communities,” Miller said.

DHS said the 120-year-old Polk currently serves 194 residents at its 2,000-acre campus, while White Haven serves 112 at its 192-acre campus.

“Having an intellectual disability does not mean a person is incapable of making decisions, contributing to their community or exploring lifelong learning opportunities. Community-based settings honor the inherent value of every person and empower individuals to choose the direction of their own lives,” Miller said.

Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of the 2018 closure of the DHS’ Hamburg State Center, which the department and advocates said will serve as a blueprint for the closure process, which is expected to take about three years. DHS said it will work directly with each resident and family from Polk and White Haven to explore all options, meet with potential community service providers and develop individualized transition plans. The agency added that following their discharge, each patient’s transition into the community will be closely monitored by DHS social workers, licensing and regional staff to ensure they are safe, happy and settled into their new home.

The Arc of Pennsylvania and Disability Rights Pennsylvania praised the planned closures of the White Haven and Polk centers and said they would continue to advocate for the closure of the two remaining facilities.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, in whose senatorial district White Haven Center is located, was critical of the Wolf administration for blindsiding the patient and employees of the center, as well as the people of Luzerne County “who care deeply about how those with intellectual disabilities are treated.”

Calling the planned closure “a terrible blow,” Yudichak said in a statement late Wednesday morning: “Without warning or any advance notification, I was informed by Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller this morning that over the next 36 months White Haven Center will close.

“It is a decision that was made without consultation or an ounce of input from the Luzerne County legislative delegation. It is a decision that should be investigated and examined thoroughly from every perspective, especially from the perspective of the families who have entrusted the care of their loved ones to White Haven Center.”

DHS said one of its goals is to support the roughly 1,173 state employees who work at the two centers, giving them opportunities for future employment.