Last week, buses full of people who would be impacted if the Administration of Gov. John R. Kasich closes developmental disability centers as his budget proposes rolled into Columbus to testify before a Senate Committee hammering out its own version of his third and most expensive budget in state history.
With help from 32nd District Democratic State Senator Capri Cafaro, people like Robin Tarr made the long trek last Thursday to the Statehouse to share her tragic and poignant stories of loved ones being forced to move away from public-funded institutional care and into privatized community-based care that may not be up to the rigors of managing those who qualify for intense, specialized care.
Testimony Moves Members
Tarr made the trip from her home in Twinsburg, Ohio, in Summit County to offer her testimony as it relates to her brother, who is seventy-one years old, severely physically and intellectually disabled and living at the Youngstown Developmental Center [YDC], which has been his home for 26 years.
“He loves living on the YDC campus and has had a full and wonderful life there. He adores his caregivers and roommates and they adore him. He also loves attending his day program at The Center at Javits Court with his peers,” she said in written testimony provided to the committee and this reporter.
Senators are engaged in crafting Ohio’s next biennial budget, which by law is supposed to be signed by Gov. Kasich by the end of June. Among its many changes is the proposed shuttering of developmental disability centers in Youngstown and Montgomery County. For reference, 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.
Tarr spoke movingly of the plight of her brother and why keeping him at YDC is a good idea and why moving him is a bad idea. According to testimony forwarded to OhioNewsBureau, Tarr’s older sibling participates in activities beneficial to him, including dances, holiday parties and dinners, picnics, outdoor concerts, golf outings, Special Olympics, sporting events, shopping excursions, cook outs, church, fairs, festivals, dining out, movie nights and home visits.
“All of these activities provide an opportunity for him to socialize within the community,” she told committee members, several of whom were teary eyed by the end of her testimony, according to eyewitness reports.
Current conditions at YDC allow him to receive visitors, watch TV, wear what he wants and spend his money, all without locks on any doors. While Tarr’s brother enjoys these apparent freedoms, he is nonetheless at very high risk and very frail.
“He can no longer walk. He has to be lifted by a Hoyer to shower, toilet and get in and out of bed,” she said, adding, “Due to his difficulty in swallowing he no longer can eat regular food or drink liquids. He has frequent coughing episodes, which may lead to aspiration into his lungs. Therefore, he needs constant one-on-one care. Due to his medications he also is losing his teeth, which is having a profound effect on his ability to communicate.”
Because of her brother’s medical and emotional condition, he is not a candidate for any type of residential or community-based housing, she said. “He requires the constant 24 x 7 medical eyes on care provided by the staff at YDC.” Having read all of the data statistics regarding fatalities of clients at high risk who have been transferred to community-based settings as a result of the closings of developmental disability centers, she and her family are very alarmed.
“In the DOJs pursuit of deinstitutionalization I feel the needs of men and women like my brother, who are at high risk, have been ignored or misunderstood. My brother is an elder, who has the mentality of a toddler and has constant medical needs. He will never be employed, live on his own or have a bank account,” she said. “It is his desire and the desire of our family that the safest and most appropriate place for him is to live the remainder of his life in his loving home at YDC.”
Tarr and her brother’s mother, now 89-years old, lives five minutes from YDC. She told the committee that closing the center will bring great uncertainty to his future, which will take its toll on her mother, too, as she won’t be able to visit him each week as she can now.
“I beg the committee to please find it in your hearts to allow Richard to remain in his home at YDC where we know he is safe, loved and his needs are well cared for. Neither he nor my mother can handle his moving to a community-based setting.” The statistics, she said, are “overwhelmingly at odds with residents who have moved from DCs to a residential setting. It’s her brother’s choice and his voice to continue to have high-quality care. “Community-based integration should not be imposed on him. Please reconsider the closure of YDC,” she concluded.
Kasich Compassion AWOL
Gov. Kasich, who cruised to an easy second-term win last year, has offered little if any discussion of his human service policies on the campaign trail to the White House in 2016. Gov. Kasich talks of his faith in god, which he says has called him to help the less fortunate, especially “people living in the shadows.” Tarr’s brother is one example among many of someone who lives in the heart of darkness as measured by Mr. Kasich’s definition of what constitutes living life in the shadows. As he parlays his care for people like Tarr’s aging brother into a national campaign for why he’s qualified to be president, Gov. Kasich doesn’t discuss how much he’s done to hurt the very people he holds out as people he’s been called on to help.
Closing developmental center appears to be just another in a long line of attempts to privatize formerly public funded obligations state government has undertaken for a large part of the last century. The governor, who casts government with original sin and who loves corporations, privatized job creation with JobsOhio, his pet project that bonded liquor profits as debt for decades to come. He has targeted abortion clinics for closure, forcing women to find alternatives to helpful health choices that are being whittled down, one by one, as part of his misguided policies that convert his religious beliefs into public policy. Early on he sold off prisons to for-profit prisons companies, the results of which have been underwhelming at a minimum.
Advising others not to fall in love with their goal, Gov. Kasich doesn’t take his own advice. He’s fallen in love with income tax cuts, choosing to raise consumption taxes across the board in order to amass money to return to high-income taxpayers in subsidized tax giveaways that redistribute money to the wealthiest.
Shuttering Ohio’s developmental disability centers will shed public responsibility—and the public funds needed to operate them—to care for people like Tarr’s brother, who may not receive in a private setting—where making a profit is an undeniable motivator—what they now can depend on in a public setting.