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PA Senate Passes Bill That Would Put Moratorium on Polk Center Closing

Monday, November 18, 2019 @ 07:11 PM

Posted by Chris Rossetti

polk-center-1024x768HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – The Pennsylvania Senate today passed a bill that would put a moratorium on closing Polk State Center in Venango County and White Haven State Center in Luzerne County.

The bill, which amends the Mental Health and Intellectual Disability Act of 1966, passed by a vote of 40-9.

The bill, which still needs to pass the House and be signed by Governor Tom Wolf, whose administration has ordered the closing of both mental health institutions, says that no state center shall close until all Medicaid waiver-eligible individuals in Pennsylvania are authorized to begin receiving home and community-based services furnished under a waiver granted pursuant to section 1915(c)(1) of the Social Security Act (49 Stat. 620, 42 U.S.C. § 1396n(c)(1)).

It goes on to say that when all Medicaid waiver-eligible individuals have received authorization under subsection (a), the department shall transmit notice of that fact to the Legislative Reference Bureau for publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Upon publication of the notice, the Task Force on the Closure of State Centers is established within the department. Within sixty days of publication of the notice, the secretary shall convene an initial meeting of the task force. The task force shall perform a comprehensive evaluation of the State facilities Centers and provide recommendations to the department prior to the closure of one or more State facilities Center.

See the full bill here.

The bill was introduced in October by Senator John Yudichak.

In a memo at the time of the introduction, Senator Yudichak along with Senators Scott Hutchinson (Venango County), Lisa Baker, and Michele Brooks said: “Fear of the unknown can be deeply debilitating and is a feeling we have all experienced.

“Today, hundreds of families across this Commonwealth are grappling with that fear as they face the prospect of their loved one being forced from the place they have called home for a large portion of their life. For others, they are struggling to find an appropriate alternative setting, if possible, that will match the immense needs of their family members before time runs out. It is unfortunate that the Department of Human Services has placed this burden on these families. It is unconscionable that this closure decision would be made without first discussing it with the impacted family members and residents, and without first ensuring that adequate capacity exists within a reasonable distance for these individuals and their families.

“We support the integration of those living with intellectual disabilities into the community, where they may have the opportunity to thrive and become more independent. But for the residents of the Polk and White Haven State Centers, this pathway simply may not be their best option. Many of these individuals require 24/7 attention and extensive medical care morning and night. Closing these facilities has the potential to place residents at risk and force families to make excruciatingly difficult emotional and financial decisions for the very individuals we have vowed to protect.

“For some of these residents, the closures and forced exits could be incredibly damaging and traumatic. Stability is essential for this population, and moving them, potentially hours away from their loved ones, is not acceptable. Before we uproot the lives of these vulnerable Pennsylvanians, we must truly understand the impact of this decision on the remaining time they have. That is why we are taking swift action to introduce legislation that would enact a moratorium on the closing of these facilities until we, as a state, are better prepared to respond to the impending result.”

In August, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services said both Polk State Center and White Haven State Center would close by 2022. See story.

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