- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

HARTFORD (AP) - Legislation that could potentially help foster the closure of Southbury Training School and five other state-run institutions cleared the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill comes about six months after a coalition of disability rights organizations announced plans to lobby Connecticut legislators to close the facilities and redirect the state funding to provide residential services to an estimated 2,000 people with intellectual disabilities. Some have been waiting for community housing, including at private, nonprofit group homes, for up to 20 years.

Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, co-chairwoman of the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee, said the Department of Developmental Services commissioner would have to return to state lawmakers with a plan for closing the six facilities or changing their purpose, while still meeting the needs of the approximate 485 clients they now serve. That figure includes about 305 at Southbury, which stopped accepting new admissions in 1986.

“We need that kind of data,” said Gerratana, adding how the legislature will ultimately decide whether to follow through with the plan.

But Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, whose district includes the Southbury Training School, said he believes the legislation makes it sound like closure is a done deal. He questioned whether that is fair to the current residents, many of whom have severe disabilities and have lived at Southbury for decades. He said they may not want to move into the community.

“How is the report fair,” asked Kane. He pointed out how the bill says the DDS commissioner shall develop a plan, in consultation with unnamed “key stakeholders,” to close all state-operated intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“This is a plan to close the facility,” he said. “It’s not a study to look at the viability of the buildings or see how we service these particular clients and their families.”

The Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities and other organizations launched the “2020 Campaign” in December, claiming DDS has been funding “inefficient, discredited institutions” while failing to serve thousands on the waiting list. The General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee released a report in 2012 that determined Connecticut’s dual system of public and private services for the developmentally disabled is costly and recommended the state eventually shift to a fully private system.

State employees and some family members and guardians have opposed the possible closure of Southbury Training School, which was built in the late 1930s and has been the subject of various legal actions over the years. They contend the facility is better suited than the private sector for the long-time residents with severe disabilities.

Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he’s concerned the DDS commissioner’s plan won’t include “a proper focus on the individuals that utilize the facilities” currently.

The bill cleared the Senate on a 25-10 vote. It now awaits action in the House of Representatives.

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