Last summer, New York’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) announced plans for the gradual closure of the Broome Developmental Center (BDC), expected to be fully implemented by March 2016.
The BDC houses and treats patients who have been dually diagnosed as both mentally ill and developmentally disabled. Proponents of closure — a plan to consolidate New York’s 24 state psychiatric hospitals into 15 locations — argue that the integration of patients into community settings will significantly reduce costs for the state and end the unwarranted segregation of dually diagnosed individuals.
According to local law enforcement, the hastened discharge of BDC patients threatens the safety of community members and patients alike. Local service providers report that they lack the space or personnel to treat these discharged patients. While the closure of the BDC may be inevitable, New York state must fund its mandate and provide Broome County with the resources to properly integrate these patients.
Some BDC patients discharged into communities are failing to adjust, resulting in disastrous consequences. According to the Broome County Department of Social Services, at least three individuals failed to transition properly, with one patient incarcerated, one admitted to a psychiatric unit and one admitted to a hospital after suffering sexual and physical assault.
This is unacceptable. The developmentally disabled are more vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults, and it’s happening here. These problems are only likely to increase as more patients are discharged without necessary protections.
Despite claims by proponents of the closure, local service providers are ill-equipped to treat these discharged patients. The state estimates that there is enough space for smaller facilities to care for the discharged patients, but these group homes lack the personnel and resources to treat more of these patients because dually diagnosed individuals require such a high level of care. Proponents also claim that patients can be moved to other facilities throughout the state. Forcing patients to move outside of Broome County and away from their loved ones can hardly be called “community integration.” According to the Press & Sun-Bulletin, children in Binghamton would have to receive treatment in Utica, which is around two hours away.
The BDC employs 650 workers. The OPWDD stated that BDC’s closure will not result in any layoffs and that every BDC worker is guaranteed a state job. OPWDD does not specify where these state jobs are located. It is likely that many of these employment opportunities will force former BDC workers to relocate. In its current state of economic decline, Broome County cannot afford to lose 650 jobs or the tax revenue these workers provide.
The state must postpone the closure of the facility until it can demonstrate that local — not state-wide — providers are equipped to treat dually diagnosed individuals. The process for release into the community must be restructured to account for developing patient crises and communication with local service providers and community members. The state should work to allow BDC workers to maintain jobs in Broome County. Yes, this will cost money, but it is necessary to ensure the safety and fair treatment of community members, dually diagnosed individuals and the workers who care for them.