Public hearings: Hamburg State Center and Norristown State Hospital’s Civil Section pending closures

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Governor Tom Wolf

In response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s move to close Hamburg State Center and Norristown State Hospital – Civil Section within the next two years, Disability Rights Pennsylvania said it commends Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Sec. Ted Dallas. Hamburg State Center, in Berks County, is one of five remaining state-run institutions for people with developmental disabilities. Norristown State Hospital, in Norristown, is one of six remaining civil units.

Wolf’s administration said it was committed to serve more people in the community, reduce reliance on institutional care, and improve access to home-and-community-based services for Pennsylvanians. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has scheduled two public hearings to offer the public an opportunity to express their viewpoints.

  • Human services will hold a public hearing from 1 to 4 p.m. on Monday, January 30, 2017, at the Hamburg Borough Building, 61 North Third St. in Hamburg to accept comment about the closure from stakeholders, officials, and the community. Those wishing to provide comments are asked to register by contacting Connie Meeker at 717.783.8964 or cmeeker@pa.gov. Written comments can be submitted via email to RA-PWRAStateCenters@pa.gov.
  • Human services will hold a public hearing from 2:30 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31, 2017, at 1001 Sterigere St., Norristown Hospital, Building 33 in Norristown to accept comment about the closure of civil beds and changes in forensic operations from stakeholders, officials and the community. Those wishing to provide comments are asked to register by contacting Helen Brennan at 610.313.1014 or hbrennan@pa.gov. Written comment can be submitted via email to RA-PWOMHSASComm@pa.gov.

According to Disability Rights Pennsylvania, the closure announcement is the result of decades of movement away from institutional living in Pennsylvania. The mission of the organization is to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities so that they may live the lives they choose, free from abuse, neglect, discrimination, and segregation.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sought to end the isolation and segregation of persons with disabilities.  Court decisions have affirmed the right to move and live in the community, Disability Rights Pennsylvania explained. For decades, our Commonwealth has demonstrated that state-operated institutions can close and individuals can be moved to the community safely. The announcement affirms the Department of Human Services commitment to offer community-based living for people with disabilities.

“Individuals experience a better quality of life when they receive care and support in their homes and in their communities, when possible,” said Dallas. “Today’s announcement means we are expanding opportunities for residents to live their lives to the fullest by returning to their homes and communities as contributing members of society.”

Hamburg State Center

Human services operates five state centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Hamburg, one of the state centers, currently serves 80 residents at its 154-acre campus.

Over the last 20 years, the resident population at Pennsylvania’s state centers has decreased by nearly 70 percent, from almost 3,000 people to the current 888. Nationally, the number of people with intellectual disabilities living in state-operated centers peaked in 1967. Since then, the number of state-operated centers and people living in them has steadily declined. Fourteen states have closed all of their state-operated centers.

“This closure will enable the residents to live in the community when possible,” said Dallas. “Research shows that community settings result in improved quality of life in areas such as opportunities for integration and social participation, participation in employment, opportunities for choice-making and self-determination, contact with friends and relatives, adaptive behavior, and other indicators of quality of life.”

Human services has established a toll-free number for family members of Hamburg residents to use during the closure process. Family members will be able to speak with staff from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling 1.888.565.9435.

Norristown State Hospital – Civil Section

Department of Human Services operates six state hospitals with services for individuals with mental illness. In the last 20 years, the state hospital population has decreased by 70 percent, from nearly 5,000 people to 1,568 (1,107 in civil units, 159 in the restoration center, 237 in forensic units, and 65 in the Sexual Responsibility and Treatment Program) today.

Norristown’s civil unit currently serves 122 individuals.

During the closure process, human services will also temporarily repurpose some civil beds at Norristown to create “forensic step down or transition” beds for those individuals committed through the criminal justice system to the forensic section of the Norristown campus. By repurposing the civil beds, DHS will improve the timeliness and quality of treatment for individuals needing forensic restoration services to enable them to return to referring jurisdictions or transition to other appropriate levels of care.

Human services has established a toll-free number for family members of residents of Norristown State Hospital to use during the repurposing process. Family members will be able to speak with staff from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling 1.877.692.1267 or through continued communication with their family member’s treatment team.

Moving Forward

Prior to leaving either facility, individuals will participate in a series of assessments and planning meetings in order to determine their level of need for services and support as they look toward a successful life in the community or with family, the state department of Human Services reported. The assessment and planning process will ensure that their new homes are both safe, appropriate, and supportive and will include the individual and their family in that process.

Department of Human Services will hold several sessions over the course of the next few months to ensure that each individual, family member, and decision maker is fully informed of all available options and that they have the opportunity to meet with potential providers and explore all potential options.

The department will work to provide both hospital and center staff viable employment opportunities at other state-operated facilities or with new or existing community programs.

“All Pennsylvanians deserve the right to choose where they live – with family, friends, and neighbors in communities where everyone is welcome,” said Dallas.