Will State Schools Be Closed?

It’s a argument disability advocates have been making for some time now—the state schools have to go.

Officially known as state-supported living centers, the 13 facilities across Texas are home to 4,100 disabled residents. The facilities house some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens—Texans with mental retardation. An abuse scandal in 2007-2008 led to a federal investigation of state-supported living centers, and the Legislature passed a major reform bill in 2009.

At this morning’s House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on health and human services, state Rep. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said it’s time to start discussing closing at least one. His suggestion echoes a recommendation by the Legislative Budget Board, which estimates closing one center will save Texas $16.4 million.

“Politics seem to cloud the arithmetic” when it comes to the facilities, Schwertner said. “There continues to be increased costs and diminished utilization; it’s high time that we discuss whether or not it’s appropriate to deinstitutionalize one or two.”

Chris Traylor, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disabilities Services that maintains the centers, said that closing one state-supported living center will take more than two years because officials must ensure that the care received in the facility can be met in the community (It took almost four years to close one in Travis County in the 1990’s). “It’s not an undertaking that can be taken lightly,” he said.

Enrollment in the state schools has been diminishing for years because of stricter enrollment requirements (now they only admit patients with high behavioral needs) coupled with an increased effort to move patients out and into the community.

“I truly believe that any individual served in an institution can be served in the community,” Traylor said.

Currently, state-supported living centers admit fewer people than they release into community homes. However, with the impending budget cuts facing community-based and in-home services, many recipients and families have testified before Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees over the last few weeks that without funding for those services, state schools might be the only option.

Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a staff writer (and former intern) covering women's health, reproductive health and health care access.

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Published at 8:18 pm CST
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