Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti was in Columbus Thursday to attend a Senate hearing at which witnesses from northeast counties, including Trumbull and Ashtabula, and Montgomery County offered testimony to lawmakers engaged in crafting a two-year state budget about continuing to keep developmental disability centers in their respective areas in operation. The Administration of Gov. Kasich proposes shuttering them by 2017 in his two-year state budget being hammered out now by lawmakers.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor

Approximately two of every 100 Americans have a developmental disability, which the federal government and state of Ohio define as a severe, chronic disability of a person that is attributable to a mental or physical impairment or combination of mental and physical impairments, is manifested before the person reaches age 22 and is likely to continue indefinitely. Based on the 2000 census showing Ohio’s population to be 11,353,140 and using the national prevalence rate of 1.8 percent, an estimated 204,357 people with developmental disabilities live in Ohio.

The Big Lift

“Lifting people up” and helping people “living in the shadows” seems to be a calling of sorts to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose made wearing his heart on his sleeve a core selling point in explaining who he is and why he wants to be president. The governor has been banking his self-promoted compassion to help the less fortune as currency he’ll cash in when he finally calculates the time to enter the long, grueling haul to the White House. To get there, though, he’ll have to survive the field of 19 other candidates also vying for the honor to be the GOP standard bearer in 2016.

Kasich Compassion Tested

Commissioner Rimedio-Righetti and other leaders have called on Gov. Kasich to revisit and rethink the transfers of disabled residents at the Youngstown Developmental Center [YDC] and another in the Dayton-area center scheduled for closure by his Administration. The Ohio House created a closure review commission in its budget that differs sharply in many ways with the governor’s, and backers of YDC just want state officials to slow down and wait until case-specific legislation is introduced, and the proposed facility closure commission undertakes its charge. The House budget idea for the facility closure commission is based on the 2005 BRAC Commission, an independent entity that reviews bases and military installations which the Department of Defense and issues a finding.

With help from Democratic State Senator Capri Cafaro of Liberty, OH-32nd, who facilitated transportation for witnesses from the district to the Statehouse today, Rimedio-Righetti was one among many who have asked the Kasich Administration to revisit the issue to close them. Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, Reps. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th and Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, have joined the call to keep YDC operating. In early May they penned a letter to the governor asking him to stop moving current residents and wait until a state facilities closure-review commission, which the House put in its revised budget and which would include these facilities in its portfolio, makes a finding.

On March 25, Trumbull County Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter in opposition to the portion of the House Budget Bill [HB64] “pertaining to the proposed phase-out of tangible personal property tax to county boards of developmental disabilities.”

What Purpose Drives You?

Gov. Kasich has always been driven by a strategy that seeks opportunities to shed public spending in favor of market forces filling the void. Hence, his belief that community-based and private group home care is a viable alternative for them is a logical extension of that belief, which doesn’t necessarily apply to other, more powerful special interests  who ask for and receive plenty of government largess.

But for Rimedio-Righetti, her state lawmaker allies, and especially for the remaining residents at YDC and those who cherish them most, the best care keeps them at YDC. Residents with severe and profound disabilities who need extensive daily support—and reports peg that number at about 80—still live at YDC. If Gov. Kasich chooses to help his budget instead of helping shadow dwellers dwell in peace instead of being forced to pack up and move, their remaining options rely on services at eight sometimes-inconveniently-located state-run facilities, or in a home or community-based setting that for many reasons may not be up to deliver services now provided by these existing developmental disability centers.

Apparently understanding the center’s clients better than state officials who oversee them do, Rimedio-Righetti said change is not good for some of them, and moving them around unnecessarily isn’t good for their health. She said 30 others hoped to testify today. Among her reasons to keep YDC open, it’s clean, professional staff and 24-hour care for residents along with nursing staff and doctors is there.

Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti today on 60 Seconds Ohio