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Judge Halts Fernald Moves Over "Factual Disputes"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 10, 2006

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--A federal judge has suspended the movement of people out of Walter E. Fernald Developmental Center while the U.S. Attorney's office investigates "fundamental factual and legal disputes" between relatives who want the facility to remain open, and state officials who are working to close it down.

On February 2, attorney Beryl Cohen presented a report to U.S. Judge Joseph L. Tauro, alleging that the Department of Mental Retardation has failed to maintain equal or better care for 43 residents who have moved out of the institution within the past three years -- most of which transferred to other state-run institutions.

According to the Daily News Tribune, Cohen's report documented incidents of former residents who experienced trauma "shortly before and after transfer," including assaults, self-inflicted injuries and loss of skin integrity. It also reportedly documented the deaths of six of those who moved.

DMR responded to the claims Wednesday, saying Cohen's report presented "no competent evidentiary support of their serious allegation that individuals suffered medical, emotional, or behavioral changes before or after transfer."

It also noted that six deaths would not be unusual among a population of 43 that had a "multitude of serious health and medical issues".

Tauro named U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan to monitor and resolve the differences between Cohen's report and the state's response. He ordered all relevant documents to be made available to Sullivan.

Tauro did not set a deadline for Sullivan's report, but suspended the state's authority to move Fernald residents until the report is complete.

Governor Mitt Romney announced in February of 2003 that the institution would be closed by October 2004 and its then-309 residents moved to other state-run facilities or into homes in the community. He hinted that closing Fernald was his first step in de-institutionalizing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Since then, 34 have transferred to other state-run facilities, and nine have moved to homes in the community.

The Walter E. 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 developmental disabilities in the Western Hemisphere.

"State denies claims of mistreatment" (Daily News Tribune)
Opinion "Fernald Questions" (Boston Globe)
"Tauro’s line in the sand" (Boston Herald)
Letter "Educate public on community living" (Boston Globe)
"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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