Massachusetts lawmakers have slated another $11 million to keep open a state facility for people with developmental disabilities that houses just six people — and could have as few as four by month’s end — thanks to a protracted legal battle that kept it from being shuttered, but created what one advocate calls a multi-million-dollar “ghost town.”
The Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham, Mass. was slated to close by July 2010, but a series of appeals by residents’ lawyers has forced the state to keep funding staff and the utility plant on the nearly 200-acre campus.
As part of a $144 million mid-year spending bill that’s yet to reach Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk, the state House and Senate last week approved $11 million for the center, which Sen. Stephen Brewer said was “being phased out.”
Of the half-dozen individuals who remain, four are out of appeals and are working with the commonwealth to find new homes, state officials said. The Department of Developmental Services said it expects two to move this month.
“At this point it’s outrageous to be spending that amount of money when there’s the existence of very good options for each of the people living there,” said Leo Sarkissian of The Arc of Massachusetts, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. “Let’s move on. We have so many other important things that are issues.”
But David Kassel, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Coalition of Families and Advocates, which has advocated for families that are fighting to keep their loved ones at Fernald, blamed the state for “mismanaging” the center, which he says could be downsized to keep residents on site.
“It’s not the residents’ responsibility to think about all the taxpayer implications of this,” Kassel said. “They have the right to appeal this, and they did.”
The state’s plan to close Fernald estimated it would generate $19.8 million in savings by the state-imposed deadline. But since then, three other institutions — the Monson Development Center, Templeton Development Center and Glavin Regional Center — have closed, with 649 people moved out of smaller facilities.
But Fernald has continued to absorb state funds. A Herald report in 2011 pegged the center’s price tag at $16.9 million for the previous year. A DDS spokeswoman said she could not provide total costs since 2009, or the number of current Fernald employees, but noted that officials are working with the residents to “ensure they have a successful transition to the least restrictive setting that supports their continued success.”
“I don’t think anybody can predict when the closure will happen,” said Gary Blumenthal of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers. “The issue is, not only is it economically difficult to operate it, does it continue to be a safe environment when with so few residents it’s almost a ghost town?”