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Well being of less fortunate should be focus

Current opposition in Pennsylvania regarding the proposed closing of two centers for individuals with intellectual disabilities — Polk in Venango County and White Haven in Luzerne County — is not unique.

The announcements in 2017 about the closings of the state centers in Norristown, Montgomery County, and Hamburg, Berks County, were met with similar opposition.

The closing of Polk and White Haven, if eventually carried out, would leave facilities in Ebensburg and Selinsgrove, Snyder County, as the only remaining centers of that kind in the commonwealth.

Wolf administration officials are confident that the two remaining facilities would be capable of meeting whatever additional level of services might be required of them.

That being said, Polk and White Haven, like the Norristown and Hamburg facilities formerly did, provide an economic shot-in-the-arm to their local economies.

Norristown and Hamburg employed about 700 workers when the Wolf administration announced that they would be closed. Now, more than 1,100 employees’ jobs are at stake at Polk and White Haven, along with the positive economic impact those centers have had not only in their local communities but well beyond.

But the closings of Polk and White Haven would be another step consistent with the laudable decades-old, nationwide process of taking people out of institutions and supporting them in their home communities.

The two proposed closings would advance the Wolf administration’s stated commitment to reduce reliance on institutional care and improve access to home and community services.

The attitude of the governor and his administration is that individuals experience a better quality of life when they are able to receive care and support in their homes and communities. Such thinking has been becoming increasingly deep-rooted for more than a half-century, in Pennsylvania and far beyond.

This is clearly a more enlightened time regarding care of people with such disabilities than, for example, in the 1960s, when Pennsylvania “warehoused” in state institutions about 40,000 people with mental illness and 13,000 people with intellectual disabilities.

Those numbers have been reduced to about 900 people in facilities that treat intellectual disabilities and 1,500 people in state hospitals.

The issue before Pennsylvania now is two-pronged. On one side are state politicians who, loyal to communities’ economic interests, are proposing a tactic that could act as longterm delay or permanent blockage of the administration’s Polk-White Haven objective.

On the other is a coalition of disability groups urging opposition to legislation that would impose a moratorium on the closings in question.

As reported in Thursday’s Mirror, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Inclusive Community contends that state funds spent to operate the two institutions could be better spent improving community support programs for the disabled.

Opponents of the closings point to a need to delay until some 13,000 individuals awaiting Medicaid-waiver services are authorized to receive home and community-based services — a reasonable concern but not an insurmountable one.

What is most important, then, is that surmountable community economic and employment concerns not take precedence over the well-being of individuals whose disabilities are lifelong — and who deserve to be accorded the most enlightened opportunities available.

Pennsylvania should project itself as compassionate but much more than that.

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