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April 12: Strange Scene At Western Center Remembered
October 31: Parents Use ADA To Sue Over Western Center's Closure
February 2: Western Center Moves Delayed
February 23: Sunset At Western Center
March 31: Opposition Loses Ground In Western Center Closure
April 11: Western Center Parents Plead For Help From Lawmakers
April 12: Tempers Flare As Community Moves Are Announced
April 13: Forty-Four Leave Western Center
April 14: Former Western Center Residents Settle In To New Homes
April 17: Western Sunset
April 18: Western Center To Be Staffed Until April 28
April 24: Western Center Families Still Afraid Moves Lower Level Of Care And Safety
April 25: Judge Dismisses Claims By Western Center Families
May 2: Hearing Ordered For Five Remaining Western Center Residents
May 10: Western Center To Close Amid Concerns About Community Supports
May 22: Western Center Finally Quiet
July 17: Hearing To Be Held On Declining Institution Population

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Western Center Moves Delayed
February 2, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Two years ago, Pennsylvania decided to close Western Center and move its 380 residents to community group homes.

On Monday, some parents of the 64 remaining residents who were scheduled to move out showed up to block the moves. The parents say the state has disregarded their views and has not treated them with respect.

This Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article reports that the institution was scheduled to close last June, but that a judge gave guardianship of the residents to their parents, who strongly object to the closure and say they will do whatever they need to do to stop it.

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Sunset At Western Center
February 23, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- In 1966, the year the PCMR was formed, around 13,000 Pennsylvanians lived in state-operated institutions. Now there are about 2,000.

One of those institutions, Western Center, was scheduled to close last summer, but parents of the 63 residents who are left there have been very vocal and active in opposition to their loved ones moving to homes in the community.

"There can be no turning back the clock," reads this editorial from Monday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which suggests that the parents' fear is understandable, but not necessarily logical.

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Opposition Loses Ground In Western Center Closure
March 31, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- "This court does not have jurisdiction over whether Western Center should remain open," Washington County Judge Thomas D. Gladden told attorneys representing the parents of the institution's residents, during a brief hearing yesterday.

The parent group had filed a petition asking the judge to review the status of 40 of the 63 remaining "patients", claiming that people living in the community have a much higher risk of death and abuse than in the institution. They also had claimed that transferring the residents out of the center without due process violated their rights as guardians.

An attorney for the Department of Public Welfare said court hearings are unnecessary because the residents are being released, not transferred.

In 1998, the state decided to close Western Center and move all of its 380 residents into homes in the community. The parents have recently filed several petitions in five different counties hoping for a review before the closure, which is scheduled to take place on June 30.

Here are two related articles:
"JUDGE RULES AGAINST WESTERN CENTER PARENTS"--Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: http://www.tribunereview.com/news/rcen0331.html

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Western Center Parents Plead For Help From Lawmakers
April 11, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Yesterday, parents of some of the 56 remaining residents of Western Center sent faxes to the offices of every state legislator, asking for help in halting proposed plans to close the state-operated facility.

The faxes expressed concern that the state would close the center long before the proposed June 30 date, "and ship all our residents to Ebensburg State Center, which will serve as a holding pen until they can be forced into unmonitored group housing."

State officials have explained to the parents' group that while no plans have been finalized, the parents will be kept informed.

Judges from two local counties recently ruled that residents who were involuntarily committed from their jurisdictions cannot be moved without prior court review. Judges from two other counties are expected to make decisions on the involuntary commitments soon.

More details are available from today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

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Tempers Flare As Community Moves Are Announced
April 12, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Western Center, the state-operated institution just southwest of Pittsburgh, once housed 755 people. A 1989 class action suit that claimed abuse and neglect of the center's residents resulted in plans to close the facility.

Yesterday, parents of some of the remaining 56 residents, who have strongly opposed the closure and moves, were notified that some of the residents would be moved today, and that the entire facility is expected to close at the end of the month. Many showed up at the facility but were not allowed inside by state troopers. One resident, the sister of the parent group's president, was arrested when she struck a trooper in the face.

Some community advocates feel the moves are necessary but disagree with how the state is handling them. They feel that people should have been moved individually or in small groups rather than all at once. They are also critical of the fact that residences and supports were not fully in place before the announced transition. As a result, several residents will be moved to another institution where they will stay until their own community-based homes are available.

More protests are anticipated today as the residents are expected to be moved.

Today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are covering the moves and the controversy in the following articles, none of which seem terribly supportive of community services:

From the Tribune-Review:


From the Post-Gazette:
"STATE CLOSING HOME FOR MENTALLY RETARDED AMID CONTINUED APPEALS, PROTESTS" http://www.post-gazette.com/regionstate/20000412western1.asp


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Forty-Four Leave Western Center
April 13, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Yesterday, the majority of the remaining residents of Western Center, a state-operated institution outside Pittsburgh, were moved to new homes in the community or to wait for their new homes in the community.

Through the mid-morning and afternoon, State police, along with evasive maneuvers by officials, kept protesting parents away from the vans that moved the forty-four former residents.

No incidents of violence were reported.

While members of the parents group that opposed the moves say they were caught off-guard by the sudden moves, officials point out that the closure had been planned for nearly a decade. The closure is the final part of a 1992 settlement stemming from a class action suit filed three years earlier. That suit charged that the facility, which at one time housed 775 people, was unsafe for residents, citing numerous incidents of abuse and neglect.

The parent group had been instrumental in delaying the move of these particular residents for several months. Hearings are pending in local courts for some of them and for the twelve residents who remain in the facility.

Parents' concerns that their "children" needed institutional services, and that community-based services would be unsafe, sparked an audit of eight community residential services. The results of the audit, which was performed Wednesday, will not be released until the state Department of Public Welfare has had a chance to review it and respond.

The local papers are covering the story with some interest, and the usual institutional bias. Fortunately, they have included a couple of articles that are a bit more positive about community living than those they wrote yesterday.

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:



From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:






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Former Western Center Residents Settle In To New Homes
April 14, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Parents of Richard Cihil visited him in his new home yesterday, where he now lives with old friends from his Western Center days.

Still uneasy about the move, Richard's mother Connie observed "The place is beautiful, the surroundings are beautiful, the people are nice, but you still have qualms about the safety net."

This past January, parents of two of Richard's other housemates wrapped themselves around their children keeping them from being moved out of the institution. But one moved on Wednesday, and the other has been in a hospital but will be moving to this home once he recovers.

Meanwhile a local court lifted an injunction, thereby allowing four other former residents to move into a home in Peters Township.

From today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

In a related story, a local court ruled yesterday that the state must hold a hearing before transferring an institution resident to the community against the family's wishes. This case involved a 72-year-old woman who lived most of her life at Polk Center, another large state-operated institution.

Last year the state moved her into the community despite protests from her guardian, but when the guardian threatened to sue, the woman was returned to Polk. State officials argued that only the individual with a disability, not family members or guardians, can oppose community placement.

Parents of some of the former Western Center residents who were moved into the community yesterday say this ruling gives them hope that their loved ones can be moved back to that facility, which may close as early as April 30.

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Western Sunset
April 17, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- The editorial in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chastises the parents of 44 former residents who last week moved out of state-operated Western Center, for protesting the moves without looking at the benefits their children will experience in the community.

"If the protesting relatives had been willing to consider the benefits of this new life, and work with the state to make sure the residents' needs were met, the nightmare scenario of Wednesday's transfers could have been avoided. But in many instances they refused to even visit the new homes and talk with staff about what life there would be like."

Here's the editorial:

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Western Center To Be Staffed Until April 28
April 18, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Only eight residents remain in Western Center, the institution that has been in operation outside Pittsburgh since 1962. Those residents are expected to be moved within the next two weeks, once court restrictions are lifted.

Last week, 56 people were moved from Western Center. Forty-four of them moved into homes in nearby communities, while twelve were transferred to another institution where they are to stay temporarily until new homes are secured for them.

More than 200 employees were furloughed last week, many of whom have the option to transfer to other state-operated facilities or programs.

Pennsylvania still has about 2,100 people with developmental disabilities living in state-run institutions, a far cry from the 13,000 who were institutionalized when Western Center opened. But, there are no immediate plans to close any of the seven remaining institutions.

This article from the Post Gazette definitely has an institutional bias, but does include a nice history of Western Center, along with interesting numbers regarding institutional versus community costs: http://www.post-gazette.com/regionstate/20000416western4.asp

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Western Center Families Still Afraid Moves Lower Level Of Care And Safety
April 24, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Many of the parents who fought the closure of Western Center, which is scheduled to be completed this week, are still afraid that their loved ones will not get adequate care in their new community-based homes.

Despite reassurances to the contrary, some point to a handful of deaths that have occurred in Pennsylvania group homes over the past few years as an indication that abuse and neglect will be commonplace, and that medical care will be lacking.

Advocates for community services suggest that the focus needs to be put on improving community-based services, rather than going back to institutional treatment.

One advocate notes, in an article that appeared in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the parents' group seems to have forgotten that reports of abuse and neglect inside Western Center were what prompted efforts to close the institution in the first place:

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Judge Dismisses Claims By Western Center Families
April 25, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Yesterday, a Washington County judge dismissed a request by the Western Center Parents Group for hearings to decide whether state officials acted properly in moving eight residents to group homes two weeks ago.

The judge said there was no reason for the hearings because the residents were released, not transferred, from the institution.

In nearby Greene County, a ruling is expected today or tomorrow from a hearing that was held yesterday about the move of two other former residents.

An Allegheny County judge has not scheduled a hearing concerning six other former residents moved out of the institution.

There are currently eight people left in Western Center, which is scheduled to close later this week. Parents of several residents have resisted the closures, fearing that the community is not safe for them to live. A complete story on the decisions ran in this morning's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

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Hearing Ordered For Five Remaining Western Center Residents
May 2, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- Further delaying the closure of Western Center, an institution outside Pittsburgh, an Allegheny judge yesterday decided to hold hearings for five of the remaining seven residents who live there.
Senior Judge Paul R. Zavarella, who had personally signed some of the involuntary commitment orders that sent the residents to the facility years ago, agreed with a parent group that those residents are now entitled to a hearing before being moved to other institutions or to homes in the community.

The state welfare department had planned to move the residents before the end of April, but that date had been moved to this week, pending Zavarella's decision.

Now, the department could be found in contempt of court if they attempt to transfer or release them before hearings are held. The judge said he will schedule the hearings soon.

The closure of Western Center, which at one time housed more than 750 residents, was agreed to as part of a decade-old settlement stemming from federal allegations that the facility was unsafe for those who lived there. The institution was scheduled for closure last summer, but a group of parents stalled the action, claiming that community-based services are dangerous.

Yesterday, the parent group called the decision a victory, explaining that they plan to use the upcoming hearings as a forum to show that community placements are not in the best interests of these residents.

"We want to show in these hearings that there is no oversight in these homes," said Michael Pribanic, attorney for the parent group who initiated the request for the hearings.

Pribanic also accused officials of wanting to close the facility before findings from a recently completed study by the state auditor are released. The study shows that more people have died in the community than in Western Center, Pribanic says, of the study that has not yet been made available to the public.

More details are available from today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

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Western Center To Close Amid Concerns About Community Supports
May 10, 2000
CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- The situation in western Pennsylvania today is kind of a "Good News -- Bad News" one: The "good news" is that Western Center, the institution that once housed over 700 people with disabilities, will be closing its doors a week from Friday, and the five remaining residents will be leaving the facility.

The "bad news" is that they will only be transferring to another institution pending hearings to determine whether moving into the community would be in their "best interest".

Another "bad news" is that results of a state audit, showing a number of problems within community supports, were released on Monday. This would seem to fuel the fear that parents of institution residents have about the safety of community services.

From today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

From the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

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Western Center Finally Quiet
May 22, 2000

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA -- After 38 years of housing hundreds of Pennsylvanians who have developmental disabilities, Western Center officially closed last week. On Thursday the last two residents were transferred to Allegheny Valley School, another institution, to join ten others former residents who are to be moved to group homes within the next three months.

In 1962, Western Center changed from a youth reform school to an institution for adults and children who had developmental disabilities. At one point it housed over 700 people. A number of deaths and reports of abuse at the facility led a group of community advocates to file a 1989 class action suit to close Western. A settlement reached two years later called for people considered "appropriate for community placement" to be released.

In January 1998, the state announced that Western would close entirely, and its then-133 residents moved into homes in the community, by June 1999. Parents of those residents strongly protested, refused to participate in planning the transfers, threatened to physically prevent officials from moving some of the residents, and effectively delayed the closure.

This April 19, dozens of residents were moved off of the campus through one exit, while state troopers kept watch on the parent group at another exit. Many people went into homes that had been readied for them in the community, others were transferred to other institutions on a temporary basis until the courts finish dealing with legal actions that had been filed by the parent group.

The parents want to use an upcoming hearing to show that community-based support services are unsafe, so that the state will always have institutions. They plan to use as evidence the results from a recent state audit that found abuses and poor oversight of background checks in some group homes. The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

Now the state is trying to decide what to do with the 300-plus acre campus.

A brief history of the facility, the lawsuit, and the controversy ran in Saturday's edition of the Washington Observer-Reporter:

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Hearing To Be Held On Declining Institution Population
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 17, 2000

SELINSGROVE, PENNSYLVANIA--The Department of Public Welfare has scheduled a public hearing on August 8 to discuss the declining resident population at Selinsgrove Center in Snyder County.

State law requires DPW to hold a public hearing on any state "mental-health or mental-retardation" facility following a downsizing of 20 percent or more in resident population or within 30 days of a closure announcement. According to a press release from DPW officials, the decrease in population at Selinsgrove Center is a result of a number of factors, primarily "the successful placement of individuals with mental retardation into small community homes that provide alternatives to state-center treatments and living arrangements".

Officials say the hearing is not taking place because of a closure announcement. DPW officials were criticized earlier this year for moving a number of residents from Western Center, another institution for people with developmental disabilities, into community homes without notifying parents. The parents had openly protested the moves.

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Strange Scene At Western Center Remembered
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 12, 2001

CANONSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA--One year ago this week, in what a pro-institution parent group called a "sneak attack", 46 of the last 56 residents of Western Center were shuttled out of the state-run institution and into new homes in the community.

It was a strange scene as members of the Western Center Parents Association, which had effectively stalled the facility's closure for nearly a year, clashed with state troopers that had been put in place to keep them from interfering with the moves.

"As President Roosevelt said on Dec. 7, 1941, I now say the same about the sneak attack by the Ridge Administration on Western Center and its residents on April 12," Daniel Torisky, secretary for the group and father of one resident, would say a few weeks later. "That is the day that will live in infamy."

The facility, which had once housed over 750 people with developmental disabilities, was finally closed on May 18. The last residents were either moved to homes in the community, or to other institutions to wait for community homes to become available. A handful were simply transferred to other institutions.

Members of the parents association are planning a vigil at the gates of the empty facility later today. The group had fought the closure of the institution from the time it was announced in January 1998. The members said they were afraid that their family members would not be safe in the community. Torisky reportedly compiled a "Death List" of people around the country who had died while in group homes.

During the past year, five former Western Center residents have died. Parents of two of those are questioning the care given at the new homes. One was a man with seizures who drowned while bathing unattended.

But the number is much smaller than the parents group had predicted.

A year later, nine former Western Center residents still are living in temporary situations, waiting for their group homes to be available. One former resident is Susan Riley, who during the protest a year ago, was hand-cuffed and placed in a police cruiser, after assaulting one of the officers (see story below). Riley's sister, Laura Mooney, who is also president of the Western Center Parents Group, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her sister will not be leaving Ebensburg Center, one of the state's other institutions.

Torisky, on the other hand, seems to be singing a different kind of tune. He says he is satisfied with the group home where his son now lives. Torisky is also fighting a different kind of fight. The Post-Gazette says he is working on pressuring the government to improve care for people receiving services in the community.

"For many individuals who have moved, these homes have exceeded the expectations of the parents," said Jay Pagni, spokesman for the Department of Public Welfare.

Around 2,000 still live in Pennsylvania's state-run institutions.

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Parents Use ADA To Sue Over Western Center's Closure
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 31, 2001

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA--In a strange twist, parents of former institution residents have filed suit against Pennsylvania saying the state violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by closing Western Center 18 months ago.

Attorneys for the 20 former residents and their guardians say they are basing the suit on the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision which they interpret as requiring states to keep institutions open for people with disabilities who are considered "inappropriate" for community living.

"The suit seeks to require the state to reopen Western Center or maintain some facility in Western Pennsylvania that maintains that level of care," Pittsburgh lawyer Michael C. Pribanic told the Post-Gazette.

Western Center, which at one time housed over 750 people with developmental disabilities, was closed on May 18, 2000. The last residents were either moved to homes in the community or to other institutions to wait for community homes to become available. A handful were simply transferred to other institutions.

Members of the Western Center Parents Association fought the closure of the institution from the time it was announced in January 1998. The members said they were afraid that their family members would not be safe in the community.

"These people must be held accountable for their actions in violating our rights as parents and guardians," said Daniel Torisky, a leader of the parents group. Torisky is the head plaintiff in the suit as guardian of his son Edward who was one of the last people moved out of Western Center last year.

The suit claims that state officials not only violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also the federal Civil Rights Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and other federal Medicaid statues and regulations. The plaintiffs want the court to order evaluations of each former Western Center resident listed in order to determine if proper placements were made.

The suit also seeks monetary relief for "physical and psychological damage" to the plaintiffs, including the parents and guardians.

The decision to down-size and close Western Center came following complaints of abuse and neglect within the institution in the late 1980s, some of which were filed by parents and guardians of institution residents.

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