Luzerne County Councilman Robert Schnee is asking his colleagues to vote Tuesday on a resolution opposing proposed state legislation that would close the White Haven Center, a residential state institution in Foster Township for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Schnee’s resolution said the county is voicing its strong opposition because the center currently houses 117 men and women with disabilities and provides them with round-the-clock support, medical care and developmental activities.
The facility also employs 455, including many county residents, it said.
State Rep. Kerry A. Benninghoff, a Republican representing parts of Centre and Mifflin counties, introduced the bill, arguing the residents would be transitioned into home and community-based support programs, such as group homes, that he maintains improve quality of life and cost less.
The bill also calls for closure of three other remaining state institutions — all by the end of 2022.
Although the bill is still in its infancy, Schnee said during a recent council meeting that he wants to be proactive because he recalls other politicians failing to prevent the closure of United Rehabilitation Services (URS) Inc. centers in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Tunkhannock in 2014, ending vocational programs for approximately 300 clients with developmental challenges.
That agency’s closure was blamed on state and federal budget cuts.
“That’s why I want to stay ahead of the ball, and I will fight for these people and their families,” Schnee said. “I hope all council members will sign this and send a clear message.”
Councilman Stephen A. Urban said some White Haven Center residents may need to remain in such a facility while others are better served in group homes and other less restrictive environments.
Schnee said center residents were placed there by doctors.
Councilwoman Kathy Dobash said she needs more information to make a decision because she supports community support programs but does not want anyone inappropriately “put out on the street.”
During past talks of closure, relatives of White Haven Center residents have said their family members need intensive and specialized care and supervision that can’t be provided in their homes or group homes.
According to Benninghoff’s briefing, his legislation would require the state to develop transitional closure plans and opportunities for public input. The average cost to support an individual in a state institution is more than $350,000 per year and as high as $450,000 in some institutions, he wrote, estimating the cost is often more than cut in half for programs in community settings.