Fernald in Flux

The fate of the state's oldest home for mentally retarded adults, the Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham, is still in flux. A court-appointed monitor yesterday presented a report to a federal judge that said forcing residents to move could hurt them emotionally and physically.

The state says its facilities are too costly and wants to relocate residents to community settings. The judge says he won't make a ruling until he gets input from the administration of Governor Deval Patrick. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.


MONICA BRADY- MYEROV: US Attorney Michael Sullivan summarized his report before a federal courtroom packed with more than a hundred relatives, friends and advocates for mentally retarded adults. He said that even though his year long investigation found residents who were moved from Fernald to community settings were doing as well or better, he would not advise shutting the facility and forcing the remaining 189 people to move.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Considering the age, the frailty, the multiple disabilities I don't think we can presume that all 189 would be resilient. In fact, I think most people would probably conclude that some segment of that population would not be resilient and it would have a permanent impact a negative impact in terms of emotional physical or combination wellbeing.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: In 2003 Governor Mitt Romney announced he wanted to close Fernald and five other facilities for severely handicapped adults in an effort to cut costs. In 2004 attorney Beryl Cohen, who filed a federal class action lawsuit in 1972 alleging civil rights abuses at Fernald, called on the court again to stop the closure. After yesterday's hearing, Cohen said he's one step closer to saving Fernald.

BERYL COHEN: As long as we, we meaning the court, can stop the pressure of forcing people out by telling them they are going to close, if you take that out of the equation then you can live out your life.

Isabelle deRosa wants her 52 year old son to live out his life at Fernald.

ISABELLE DEROSA I have a son who doesn't even know how to cross the street safely he needs the protection that Fernald gives him. To put him into a different situation than what he's accustomed to, now he's been in there 39 years to put him in a strange place and st6range faces that don't know him. He's in jeopardy as far as I'm concerned.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Lawyers for the state argued in court that because Sullivan's report found the transfers weren't harming residents, they should be allowed to continue. But Judge Joseph Tauro, who has presided over federal involvement in the Fernald Center for more than 30 years, said he didn't want to make a ruling until the Department of Mental Retardation gets input from the Patrick Administration, which may take a different approach to closing the state facilities.

Whether mentally handicapped adults are better off in state facilities or community settings is an ongoing argument among advocates. Leo Sarkissian is the Executive Director of the ARC of Massachusetts, an advocacy group for mentally handicapped adults that supports closing Fernald.

LEO SARKISSIAN: If there's enough money we're all for let people stay there while building the community system further and if that can be done and if governor Patrick can find the resources to do that we're all for it and we'd love for people to get their wishes respected.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The Department of Mental Retardation refused to comment after the hearing and Governor Patrick's office did not respond to requests for comment.

In the hearing, Judge Tauro expressed sympathy to keeping Fernald open, saying the state's plan to shut it down regardless of the people living there, would cause unwarranted jeopardy. His statements encouraged Rita Botti, whose brother has lived at Fernald since he was a year old.

RITA BOTTI: I'm thinking positively and I'm thinking the residents who want to stay at Fernald will stay at Fernald. And I really sincerely hope that. My brother has been there for over 50 years and essentially his entire life and I think it would be devastating to move him.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Judge Tauro says he won't make a final determination until he receives written responses to the US Attorney's report by the end of May.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov

This program aired on March 8, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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