BREAKING NEWS: Governor Wolf Vetoes Bill Seeking to Stop Closure of Polk Center

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would have placed a moratorium on the planned closures of Polk and White Haven State Centers.

The bill, Senate Bill 906, put a five year moratorium on any state center closures, and would have established a task force to evaluate the centers and provide recommendations to the department prior to any closures.

“All people deserve the opportunity to live among their family and peers in integrated, supportive homes. Quality home and community-based care should be the priority for the individuals we serve,” Wolf wrote in his veto message.

“Community care results in better outcomes for individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities should be offered an everyday life as fully integrated members of our communities. My goal is to serve more individuals in the community, reduce reliance on institutional care, and improve access to home and community-based services.

“This legislation does not promote this investment and transition to community-based care for individuals with a disability. Instead, this legislation continues the reliance on institutionalization and is a barrier to community living.

“Specifically, this legislation is in response to the recent announcement of the closures of two state-operated centers: Polk State Center and White Haven State Center. These centers are large institutions that are costly to maintain and do not promote community living. As individuals have transitioned to the community, the need for state-operated centers has declined. It should be acknowledged that closures of state centers have always been controversial. The process that the Department of Human Services has followed for state center closure announcements was established to provide for the planful transition of residents and staff and to honor agreements with the employee unions. The department has followed this announcement procedure for the last two decades. The Department fully understands the gravity of the decision to close a center and has extensive procedures in place for such closures.

“As previously announced, my administration will continue to work with residents, their families and the employees of the state centers to provide a smooth and safe transition over the next few years. No resident will leave these state-operated centers without a destination of the resident’s and the family’s choosing, including the option to remain in a state center setting. Further, no resident will leave without a fully developed individualized plan for the physical, emotional, developmental, social and mental health needs of the resident.

“The debate around this closure has been polarizing. I look forward to the parties coming together and shifting our focus to ensuring a thoughtful and successful transition for each resident and each employee.”

The Senate passed the original bill on November 19, 2019, and it was then amended by the House of Representatives on January 14.

The James amendment that was added eliminated the requirement that every Pennsylvanian who is Medicaid waiver-eligible be moved off the waiting list and into community-based services prior to the closure of any state center.

Because it was amended, it then had to be returned to the Senate for their concurrence. The Senate concurred by a vote of 28-21 on January 27.

Legislators could still override the governor’s veto, but whether or not that will come to pass remains to be seen.


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