President of Polk Center Association of Parents, Friends & Family Lashes Out at PA’s Decision to Close Center


PITTSBURGH, Pa. (EYT) – The president of the Polk Center Association of Parents, Friends and Family is displeased at Pennsylvania’s decision to close the Polk State Center within three years.

“This is the wrong decision on the wrong day for the wrong reasons,” Irene McCabe, whose sister resides at the Polk State Center, told exploreVenango. “There is nothing about this decision that is right. It’s insulting, rude and ignorant. These people (who made the decision) are supposed to be skilled at relationships and communication and foreseeing what the problem is and have a channel for a solution. They put the announcement out too soon. I don’t know why they felt they had to do it that quick. They weren’t ready. Everybody knows it doesn’t make sense.”

McCabe, who spent time working in the Commonwealth government, believes the fault in the way the decision was made and how it was announced lies with Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller.

“Governor (Tom) Wolf brought her in from Kansas where she was the Insurance Commissioner,” McCabe said. “He brought her in to run the insurance department (at first). My read on her is she is so comfortable around numbers and less comfortable about people.”

In the DHS media release that quoted Miller extensively, DHS said the closure of the Polk State Center in Venango County and the White Haven State Center in Luzerne county “reflects the Wolf Administration’s work to serve more people in the community, reduce reliance on institutional care and improve access to home- and community-based services so every Pennsylvania can live everyday lives.”

Miller went on to say, “this is an incredible moment in our history in Pennsylvania.”

“She talked about this being a great new day for Pennsylvania,” McCabe said. “Laying off 100s of people and putting little kids in the road to be run over by cars – that is how I liken this (is a great day)?. If you put the residents of Polk in the community it’s like putting little kids in the road to be run over by cars. It’s not wanted and it’s not desired and it’s not necessary. People who know, know that, but choose to ignore it. There is a big, big, big national movement saying the closing of all these centers is wrong.”

McCabe said the unintended consequence of closing centers like Polk and moving its residents into group homes that are run by the private sector are staggering.

“We have states where they have moved too fast to shutdown centers,” McCabe said. “In George, they lost 500 kids. These (residents) are fragile. They have digestive systems that are fragile. They are people whose whole body doesn’t function well. They need access 24-7 to doctors and round the clock nurses. They are prone to choking.”

Using a sports metaphor, McCabe said a center like Polk is a “very sophisticated playbook.”

“I call it a moral relationship,” McCabe said. “You have somebody who really, really needs care. They need an enormous amount of attention. They can’t make decisions for themselves, they can’t fend for themselves. It takes a person (working at the centers) who take care of them like it is a moral calling. They are so skillful and inspired. The relationships they develop with the people in the centers keeps that person on an even keel.”

McCabe said that when people residing in institutions like Polk State Center are placed in the community that the level of care drops significantly.

“You end up putting them in a community where the staff turns over every 90 days and is without (the same) training and without the calling to help people like this,” McCabe said. “On top of that, you are paying the staff so little. Those poor people are nice and trying to do good things but they are making beans, and it takes all the time and energy you have to care for these people. They aren’t easy to take care of now.”

McCabe, echoing the feelings of an employee who talked to exploreVenango earlier in the week, said that the group homes and private sector are already having trouble finding people willing to work with the special needs that people in those homes have.

“They can’t find anyone to take care of them,” McCabe said. “No one wants to do that for $8.00 an hour. There is a crisis of support personal.”

With such a hard time finding support personnel and the frequent turnover of that support personnel because of what they are getting paid, McCabe said that relationships with the person being cared for aren’t built.

“Relationships are key,” McCabe said.

McCabe also takes umbrage to the idea that residents of Polk State Center would be better off in the community.

“They are talking about a phantom population,” McCabe said. “(Miller) says they are going to go into the community and thrive and be happy and have puppies and get a job. That is not my sister. Who are you talking about? It’s a phantom population.”

One of the reasons cited by Miller for closing the Polk State Center was the cost of caring for a patient, which she claims is $409,794.00. But McCabe said private care isn’t any cheaper and that not everyone costs that amount.

“That $400,000.00 they pulled out of the air,” McCabe said. “They make it seem like everyone is charged at that level. I think an audit will show that isn’t the case and that private care isn’t any cheaper.”

McCabe also worries that the announcement of the closing taking three years will force the most experienced staff at Polk to leave to find other jobs, thereby causing a decrease in care to the residents that are there.

“When they announced the closing, the good jobs go to the most senior members,” McCabe said. “They will leave, and that hurts the residents. They will have to form new relationships with inexperienced staff. It is so wrong for them to announce this without making any effort to find solutions to leave them alone. The kids don’t do well when not in the kind of care they are getting now. My sister at Polk has had the same family taking care of her for three generations. It is a fragile relationship. It’s a mystical, magical, wonderful thing.”

McCabe said she called Governor Wolf’s office about the decision after it was made Wednesday, and the people she talked to seem to be as confused as her as to why the decision was made like it was made.

“They are embarrassed in the governor’s office,” McCabe said. “I have no idea how the governor rolled over on this. Just last week, he announced a Council on Reform to look at the state’s most vulnerable populations, look in into people who live in institutions. One day he wanted to know what you think and three days later Miller is talking lalalala stuff. Miller says this is how we do it. It doesn’t even make sense. They are supposed to be the model some type of (rational) behavior (with these decisions) not this Donald Duck or Bozo or whoever gets hit with the stick way of doing things. What are they talking about? They are saying stuff that is not true yet they are acting like they were planned and organized. They don’t want to have a rational discussion.”

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