Wolf says in letter no other options on Polk closure

The Cranberry Township supervisors received a letter last week from Gov. Tom Wolf .

The letter was a response to the supervisors’ correspondence to the governor in late August regarding their strong opposition to the proposed closing of Polk Center.

Despite the supervisors’ outline of reasons why the decision should be overturned, Wolf’s Nov. 1 letter left no room for other options. The contents focused solely on closing the facility.

The Polk Center closing was unexpectedly and suddenly announced Aug. 14 by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.

Polk Center, as well as White Haven State Center in eastern Pennsylvania, will close over the next three years.

The decision was based on Wolf’s contention that developmentally disabled residents should be relocated from an institutional setting to community-based living. Financial considerations focused on facility and personnel costs, too, were included in the reasoning.

Polk Center is home to 194 residents. There are 744 employees at Polk Center.

“My administration is fully committed to providing the highest level of compassionate, person-centered care to individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism,” wrote Wolf.

Noting that congressional action in the 1980s provided “sustainable funding … to allow us to invest in establishing a strong infrastructure of community services,” Wolf was direct in describing that as the preferred method.

“Institutionalization is now a temporary or last resort option for care,” wrote the governor, adding that Pennsylvania operates only four state centers that house about 700 residents.

Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Human Services serves more than 40,000 people in community settings, said Wolf. More than a fourth of those people, he said, “receive 24/7 residential services that provide care similar to what is currently offered in Polk and White Haven.”

There is a waiting list for clients but it is predominately for those individuals wishing for “community-based services, not for beds in state centers, which shows the strong patient preference to receive services in the community,” Wolf wrote to the supervisors.

Wolf explained the closings will take three years to complete. During that time, the state will “work directly with each resident and family to develop individualized transition plans,” wrote Wolf.

Reiterating what he and the Department of Human Services have been promising, Wolf wrote that all residents leaving Polk or White Haven will have “a destination of their choosing” as well as a comprehensive plan that meets all their needs.

Once settled, the patient’s transition will be monitored “to ensure they are safe, happy and settled into their new home,” said the governor.

‘Proven track record’

Wolf also addressed the loss of jobs associated with the closures.

“(The department) has a proven track record of placing employees affected by facility closures in other commonwealth positions and will do so for the approximately 1,173 employees at Polk and White Haven,” Wolf wrote to the supervisors.

The displaced workers will “be encouraged” to take jobs in the community programs that will serve the discharged patients. Without mentioning specifics, Wolf said the staff members will also have “opportunities for state employment.”

In briefly mentioning Wolf’s letter at a meeting Thursday, the supervisors had no public reaction to his remarks.

Meanwhile, a state Senate bill that could halt the closure of both state centers has stalled. A similar measure is under consideration in the state House.

The bills call for a moratorium on the closing of Polk and White Haven until further study is done.