Advocates throughout Texas who work with, care about, and are citizens with disabilities have voiced their anger over the proposed funding level maintenance for State Supported Living Centers (SSLC) which have no waiting lists for admission while waiting list for community-based care can be 12 to 15 years. Those in favor of community based services maintain that SSLC were necessary when the default situation for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) was institutional placement. Now most people with IDD live in the community, but the funding has not followed this transition.
It is estimated that there will only be 2,850 residents total within all 13 SSLC by 2017. The monthly cost to maintain someone in this residential structure then will be approximately $19,650 . For the 2015 fiscal year, according to Community Now, an anti-institutionalization coalition, Texas is projected to spend four times as much providing services to someone who lives in an SSLC as opposed to funding community-based alternatives for that same person.
Texas has consistently ranked among the lowest states in terms of funding community-based services for people with disabilities. The state also has the most institutionalized people with disabilities, as well as the highest number of institutions designed to serve such people, and the entire nation. This is despite the fact that the state of Texas has settled a lawsuit brought against it by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2009.
During its investigation the DOJ found that some SSLC residents had been neglected, beaten, sexually assaulted and even murdered by the people in charge of their well-being. As a result of these findings, the DOJ set benchmarks that the state was to achieve. Only 30 percent of the goals mandated by the DOJ in their settlement with Texas has been satisfactorily completed, according to attorney Beth Mitchell of the nonprofit organization Disability Rights Texas. As of June 2014 the state is currently attempting to renegotiate the settlement agreement timeline dealing with issues around monitoring and compliance.
Even if the waiting lists for community-based services were not 12 to 15 years long, supporters of the SSLC claim that not every Texas citizen with a disability could be cared for in the community. They claim that transitioning would be disruptive to SSLC residents, employees, and families. Many site safety concerns as a reason to keep the SSLC open.
However, the SSLC safety record is far from spotless. In one case, a resident who was cognitively impaired but otherwise healthy who belonged to a Denton SSLC was beaten so severely that he now must use a wheelchair and is unable to feed himself. Between 2004 and 2005, 17 residents died under suspicious circumstances at Lubbock SSLC. Staff at the Corpus Christi SSLC were caught on video, in 2009, forcing residents to fight each other for the workers’ entertainment.
Recently, the mother of one of the residents at the SSLC in San Antonio alerted the media after her son suffered a broken nose, which allegedly happened when another resident entered his room and struck him. The mother feels that this occurred because there was not enough staff present to provide one-on-one attention. However, Melissa Gale, the Public Information Officer of the State Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) which is responsible for oversight of the location said that the facility was and is not short-staffed.
Now it seems that the Austin SSLC may not even close by the August 31, 2017 deadline outlined in a Texas Senate bill, due to a House amendment. The site was recommended for closure by DADS, because of its tendency to be out-of-state and DOJ compliance. Many advocates feel that the Austin SSLC is one of the worst institutions in a state full of bad ones. This opinion is due to the amount of violations found by both the DOJ and Texas state regulatory agencies. The actual fate of the Austin SSLC will be determined by June 1.
The deadline is the reason that Community Now issued a social media request for assistance to other advocates in favor of institutional closure across the country. The group asked that people call key legislative officials in Texas through May 31 and request that they honor the work of the SSLC Restructuring Commission by implementing the plan that they created. The commission’s plan calls for the closure of six SSLC by 2017, including the Austin institution.
Whatever happens to the SSLC system, if more people with disabilities are going to transition into community living from residential placement, they are going to need assistance in their houses. ADAPT of Texas is a nonviolent, direct action, disability rights group that is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities receive the services they want in the setting of their choosing.
One of the campaigns the group is currently advocating is that community-based attendants receive a minimum base pay of $10 an hour. Attendants assist people with disabilities in performing daily tasks like going to the bathroom, maintaining hygiene, and house upkeep. However, the state only pays them a base wage of $7.86 per hour, without health insurance, sick time, or vacation time.
Advocates want that to increase to $10 per hour. An increase to that amount would make attendant salaries comparable to those who work in the fast food industry. “It’s criminal that people essential to our survival can’t feed their kids,” remarked Jennifer McPhail, an ADAPT organizer, who self directs her state-funded care program.
That is why on May 19, people with disabilities, community-based attendants, and other advocates spent nearly 12 hours occupying the Governor’s Reception Room, as well as the area surrounding its entrance. Six arrests were made when protesters refused to leave Gov. Greg Abbott’s office at its five p.m. closing time. were made Additionally, 9 more demonstrators refused a police order to depart at just after 10 p.m. , the normal closing time of the capital. Finally, reporters from The Associated Press, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the San Antonio Express-News and several television stations were also made to leave the building under threat of arrest.
Each of the demonstrators received an on-site citation for criminal trespass and was ordered to reappear at court in July. However, this did not appear to affect the group’s ongoing plans. Organizer Bob Kafka said that ADAPT would continue to have a presence at the capital daily. It appears that some Texas citizens with disabilities are tired of watching others wait 12 to 15 years for community-based care.
By Martina Robinson
Eyewitness News: Concerns over S.A. state-run living center
The Austin Chronicle: House Delays Closure of Austin SSLC
Community Now Freedom Website: About Us
Community Now Freedom Website: Texas Institutions
Community Now Facebook: Texas Needs Your Help
NPR: Five Years Later, Texas State-Supported Living Centers Are Not Meeting Standards
The Daily Cougar: State-supported living centers are brutal
Statesman: Kafka’s Law: `You never look good arresting disabled people’
Featured Image courtesy of Freaktography’s Flickr Page- creative commons license
In-line Image courtesy of Danny Saenz- used with permission