Families of Regional Center Residents Fighting Closure

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Just days after learning new budget cuts would force the closure of a local facility for the developmentally disabled, families of the people who live there are gearing up to fight back.

They say they're pushing for at least an extension to the February 2010 closing date so they can find appropriate alternatives for their loved ones -- something one local organization believes it can be.

Connie Robbins-Brady says her son Tyler receives care that is second to none at the Grand Junction Regional Center.

"They need total care from bathing, toileting, feeding, there's tubes, there's medications," says Robbins-Brady. "It's really a hospital setting."

And it's for that reason she's very worried about Tyler's future.

"What we've heard historically is that when people in this kind of a setting, people with the most serious and profound needs, are moved into a different setting, survival rates go down," she says.

So she's turning her frustration into motivation -- trying to organize the community to fight to keep the center open for as long as possible.

"We're all angry, but we've gotta get past the anger and make a solution to this," said Robbins-Brady.

Mesa Developmental Services -- a community organization that serves people with disabilities -- hopes it can be part of that solution.

"This is not new for us," said Marilee Langfitt, director of Public Relations for Mesa Developmental Services. "We have been doing transitioning from the Regional Center for 25 years."

MDS officials admit most of the people that have made the transition before did not have the serious medical conditions or needs that these residents do. But they're confident they could have the proper staff and facilities in place to take them in.

"Right now [the nursing staff] doesn't serve to the on-site, twenty-four hour a day level," said Langfitt. "But we're all going to be working to develop new services."

They say over the next few weeks, they will work closely with the Regional Center and families to determine the best course of action of the residents.

"We will take several months to do this," said Langfitt. "But they won't be going any place until all of us find an appropriate service."

But the families and even the residents themselves are wary.

"I just don't want to have to move because other places are mean to me," said Carol Distel, who lives at facility.

And they say in any case, their ultimate goal is to stay right where they are.

"We have a chance to be heard," said Robbins-Brady. "This isn't over. We can make a difference."

The families are asking anyone who cares about this issue to join them for a public meeting Tuesday, August 25. They plan to share their loved ones' stories and launch a phone, email, and public awareness campaign to change the state's mind about closing the facility. The meeting will take place from 5 - 6:30 p.m. at the Whitman Educational Center, 248 S. 4th Street.

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