The Star Ledger’s recent report of widespread neglect of developmentally disabled residents at the Vineland Developmental Center leaves a sobering afterthought about the process in which it was decided that the institution would remain open.
This year, the Governor determined that at least one of the State’s centers for the developmentally disabled would be closed. Initially, he proposed that the Vineland Developmental Center would get the ax, amid a public outcry by Vineland parents and staff. Later, it was decided that a Task Force would be formed to make a final decision.
A few months later, the Task Force recommended that Vineland remain open, but that the developmental centers in Woodbridge and Totowa would be closed. Among the reasons given by the Task Force was the suggestion that the immediate regional area where Vineland is located would suffer an enormous economic impact. However, the economic downturn, the Task Force reasoned, would not be as great in North Jersey.
Now, it has been reported that widespread neglect has occurred among many residents at Vineland that has had disastrous consequences, including the amputation of the arm of one. A spokesperson for the Department of Human Services has been quoted as saying that “The state has since fired seven temporary nurses, suspended three permanent nurses and is moving to terminate seven other nursing staff connected to her care.”
When federal officials inspected the State’s seven developmental centers earlier this year, Vineland was the only facility that was listed as being in “immediate jeopardy”. The officials found many case of neglect, leading to potential life-threatening risks.
The Task Force was created at the behest of Senator Jeff Van Drew and the Vineland staff. It is now learned that Vineland’s cases of neglect were reviewed by the Task Force during their deliberations. However, the facts were not shared with the public until the Task Force had made its binding recommendations. The obvious implication is that the Task Force did not place health and safety as a high priority issue. The question then becomes, “Did the Task Force place the economic implications for the region over the health and safety of the Vineland residents?”
Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a disability policy specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law.