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Surprise Visit Reinforces Romney's Resolve To Close Fernald
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 15, 2004

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS--Two weeks ago, Diane Booher, president of the group that wants Fernald Developmental Center to stay open, hand-delivered an invitation to Governor Mitt Romney urging him to visit and tour the facility.

Booher's Fernald League for the Retarded hoped that Romney would then have a change of heart about his efforts to close the 156-year-old institution that houses more than 200 people with mental retardation.

Romney took them up on their invitation: He made a surprise visit on Tuesday.

State officials said the unannounced tour actually reinforced the governor's decision -- made nearly two years ago -- that the aging facility must be shut down.

According to the Boston Globe, Romney and Department of Mental Health Commissioner Gerald Morrissey visited two buildings at Fernald for about 30 minutes.

Morrisey said the governor was reassured that the state's plan to close large institutions and move people to smaller, community-based supports is the right move.

"I think it affirms that the policy direction we're taking is the correct one," Morrissey said. "We're looking at individual needs."

Booher said she was disappointed the governor didn't stay longer and that he didn't give some warning so that League representatives could plead their side.

"Maybe he hasn't seen (Fernald) through the eyes he needs to see it (through)," she told the Globe.

Romney announced in February of last year that the institution would shut down by October 2004 and its then-302 residents moved to other state-run facilities or into homes in the community. The governor hinted that closing Fernald was his first step in de-institutionalizing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Since then, Fernald employees and parents of institution residents have effectively stalled the moves.

This week, advocates on both sides of the issue continue to meet to come up with an agreement that they feel will be in the best interests of Fernald residents.

The Fernald Developmental Center was originally founded as the "Massachusetts School for the Feeble Minded" by social reformer Samuel Gridley Howe in 1848. It was later renamed for a former superintendent of the facility.

It is the oldest institution housing people with mental retardation in the Western Hemisphere.

"Romney visits Fernald, still wants to close it" (Daily News Tribune)
"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express)

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