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Advocates Push To Reverse Fernald Ruling
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 30, 2007

WALTHAM, MASSACHUSETTS--Advocates for community living in Massachusetts are putting pressure on Governor Deval Patrick to appeal a judge's decision that -- if not challenged -- could leave Fernald Development Center open for years, perhaps decades.

On August 14, U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled that the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation cannot decide on its own to close the 159-year-old facility, and must give the 180 residents with intellectual disabilities and their families the choice to stay.

Disability rights advocates have called Tauro's decision a setback for people with intellectual disabilities both in and out of institutions. It means that Massachusetts will continue to pay for institutionalizing Fernald's aging residents (currently at an annual cost of about $249,000 each) while thousands of others wait for services in community-based settings (about $102,000) or with family members (about $55,000).

"The reality is that people are looking for homes in community services, there's new investments that need to be made in the community," Leo Sarkissian, executive director of Arc of Massachusetts, told the Daily News Tribune. "This decision sets things back possibly 15 years."

Susan Nadworny, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change, said: "We're urging everyone to make phone calls to the governor's office and ask for an appeal."

In opinion pieces, along with private and public email listserves, advocates expressed frustration at Tauro's decision. They noted, however, that he has appeared to hold low expectations of people with intellectual disabilities, and pointed to the fact that an independent review he ordered recently found that those who had already moved out of Fernald were doing as well or better than they did at the facility.

Some seemed hopeful that the ruling could be reversed on appeal, in part because there is no constitutional right to institutionalization. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states violate the Americans with Disabilities Act when they unnecessarily institutionalize people with disabilities.

Governor Patrick's administration has argued in the past that Judge Tauro does not have the legal power to order the state to keep the institution open.

In February of 2003, then-Governor Mitt Romney announced that the institution would be closed by October 2004 and its 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.

Determined to stop the closure, employees and family members of institution residents have worked effectively to slow down that process.

The Arc, Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change, and other advocacy groups are supporting the state's efforts to close Fernald, believed to be the oldest institution housing people with intellectual disabilities in the Western Hemisphere.

The institution 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.

"Advocates say ruling 'unfair' to residents" (Daily News Tribune)
"Editorial: Fernald preserved, but at a premium" (Boston Herald)
"Columnist: Looking beyond Fernald" (Boston Globe)
"Fernald Developmental Center -- Oldest Institution In the Americas" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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