Rally Held in Harrisburg Announcing Lawsuit Against Gov. Wolf for Proposed State Center Closures

| January 22, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – A rally was held in Harrisburg yesterday to announce a lawsuit against Governor Wolf regarding the proposed closures of Polk and White Haven State Centers.

Families of residents, staff members, and legislators, including State Senator Scott Hutchinson and State Representative R. Lee James, attended the rally that was held at the state capitol at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 21.

The initial announcement was made by attorney Tom York, of York Legal Group, who noted he has worked on developmental disabilities issues and has stood opposed to closures of other centers like Polk and White Haven in previous cases.

“I want to thank all of you for coming here today (Tuesday) to bring attention to this very important matter, a matter that is not an exaggeration to say is life and death to the most vulnerable citizens in our society,” York stated.

York went on to note the difficulties involved in the proposed closures, from finding safe and secure housing with the proper care for the residents, to the announcement of the closure without any input from the families and guardians of the individuals at the centers.

““We are filing a suit this week to support the rights of those disabled persons at Polk and White Haven who need and deserve our protection.”

The rally also included comments from Polk and White Haven supporters, family members of residents, and legislators.

“I am here to stand shoulder to shoulder with the individuals that reside at Polk Center, that call it their home, that feel that it is a stable, loving, caring, and protective environment, something they’ve called home their entire lives,” Senator Hutchinson said.

“They should not be ripped out of their homes, and therefore I stand in support of this lawsuit.”

Senator Hutchinson went on to note that in this fight against the pending closure, it remains important to “cover every base,” from the pending legislation to put a hold on the closures, to the lawsuit.

“I’m happy to support this effort and stand with the families of Polk and White Haven as we move forward.”

He also reiterated the importance of choice for those residing at the centers.

“They have chosen to live and reside at Polk State Center. Nobody is being forced to stay there, and we want that choice to continue going forward.”

Representative James also spoke about the circumstances surrounding the lawsuit.

“It’s unfortunate that we have come to this point, where we actually have to resort to the courts to do the right thing, but I believe our mission here today is the right thing,” James said.

James noted that he is well aware of how critical the centers are to the families of the residents.

“Because of the high quality of care that is consistently provided by the folks who work there, residents thrive at Polk Center and White Haven. Many have been there 40 to 50 years. Some of those who came in had life expectancies you could count on one hand, and they’re still with us. It’s because of the excellence of service.”

He went on to state the persistent efforts of the families, guardians, and caregivers of the state center residents to save the centers have been “inspiring.”

“I’ve attended meetings, hearings, rallies. Together we championed legislation which would actually consider the residents, most of whom are the most vulnerable members in our Keystone state.”

According to James, the pending bill would require a comprehensive examination of all of the state centers by a task force that would also make recommendations on the future of the centers.

“We hope it’s given to the governor soon for his consideration.”

James also noted more work remains, and there are a number of bills in the house, now, to help keep Pennsylvania residents with intellectual disabilities safe, including House Bill 1363, which would create a bill of rights for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“It would affirm that they have a full right to live and participate in their homes and communities, independently make choices about their lives, contribute to society, and experience full integration, but it maintains their choice. This choice, under the governor’s action, is being taken away from them. We want them to have that choice.”

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