Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Is the Point of the Return?

I am fortunate to have two adults f/k/a children whose intellectual curiosity and aptitude far exceeds my own because from them I can learn many things.  I am also fortunate that - to a degree at least - I am teachable.  The latter is important because I discover with the dawning of each new day just how much I have yet to learn. 

Friday night Suzanne telephoned me as I was on my way home from the office to inquire about what I knew of a State-mandated program entitled (with what upon further examination appears to be a deceptive amount of benignity) "Return Home New Jersey".  "Return Home New Jersey" (hereafter referred to as "RHNJ") is a program run through the State's Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities.   According to the DHS web site: 

New Jersey’s Return Home policy brings back to New Jersey adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities – many of whom were placed out of state as students with special needs and who transitioned into costly, congregate residential facilities upon graduation.  At the time, there was no ‘trigger’ to return them to New Jersey when their educational entitlement ended, so they have been living in another state, in an institutional setting, paid for with New Jersey tax dollars for years, even decades.

Over the past several years, New Jersey’s system of care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities has steadily evolved. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested into community-based homes and services to give people with intellectual and developmental disabilities opportunities to live, work and enjoy their lives in smaller residential settings, with appropriate staff and services to support them. This absolutely includes people with very complex medical needs and behavioral conditions.

It makes sense that with a growing infrastructure in place to serve them, we should return this group of people – closer to family, into community-based residential settings that are licensed and inspected according to New Jersey standards.

The goal of Return Home New Jersey is twofold: to ensure that individuals who have been placed out of state can return to a comparable or better setting in New Jersey that meets their needs and to better manage the state resources that serve the community of nearly 29,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in New Jersey – which includes the waiting list and others who are transitioning from developmental centers into the community.

Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge the following.  While far too many families for me to accurately count deal day-to-day with a loved one who is him/herself dealing with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and requires the special care found at the type of facilities identified by the DHS, mine is not among them.  I have never had any firsthand dealings with anyone at (a) DHS or (b) any facility of the kind encompassed by this program.  

Full disclosure demands, also, that I acknowledge the following.  The highlighted language above is reproduced verbatim from the State DHS web site.  However, the italicized and underlined sections are the product of my handiwork.  Experience has taught me that whenever one is dealing with a Governmental agency, an oft-repeated rationale for doing whatever it is said agency is doing is money.  Government may be loathe to ever tell we the people upon what trifles our money is being spent but it never hesitates to share with us any and all triumphs of the public fisc.  Every government official worth his/her paycheck will be quick to tell the public how his/her hard work and thriftiness just saved all of us a nickel...even if the cost of spreading the news is one thin dime. 

Again, as someone who has no skin in the game personally on this issue, I am hesitant to call "Liar! Liar! Pants on Fire!" on the section on the DHS web site entitled, "The facts are:"  for I have every confidence that before any of the nine specifically enumerated bullet points that follow it were permitted to see the virtual light of day they were checked, double-checked and cross-checked to ensure that at least one source exists that supports them...at least kind of, sort of.  

I also have every confidence that notwithstanding the confidence with which someone in web design for the DHS declared "The facts are:" that the facts set forth in the nine specifically enumerated bullet points that follow it are not indeed the whole truth.  If they were and if, in fact (I could not resist), they represented all of the known evidence on this particular issue, then the DHS web site would have so indicated.  

These days, here in the State of Concrete Gardens, it is difficult to get our elected officials with the letter (R) next to their names and elected officials with the letter (D) next to their names to agree upon anything, which task is clearly complicated by the fact that our Chief Executive (a/k/a "the Man who would be King") has spent more time traipsing all over the country sniffing around the job he not-so-subtly aspires to (and has as much chance of being elected to as do I and less chance of being elected to than my brother Kelly has of being elected Pope) than here in New Jersey doing the job that we the people (including Yours truly) re-elected him to do sixteen short months ago.  

So, when last year a majority of the members of our State Legislature - on both sides of the aisle - got together and sent two pieces of legislation to the Governor's desk, which legislation would have imposed a moratorium on the State's relocation of almost five hundred individuals from out-of-state facilities to New Jersey facilities, it was no small undertaking.  Neither bill was signed into law however.  Both were vetoed.    At no point in the past five-plus years has this Legislature mustered enough votes (sorry, I was going to write "balls" but thought that might seem unduly harsh) to override a veto.  More often than not, any opposition to a veto expressed aloud by those legislators with the (R) next to their names dissolves into vapor at the moment when talk and action arrive at the point of intersection.  

The times, though, may be a-changin' in Trenton.  Earlier this week, a State Assembly panel approved a bill, albeit a significantly less comprehensive version of the bill that failed last year (think protection for forty-five people as opposed to five hundred) that would block RHNJ from being imposed upon approximately forty-five people whose families have described them as the most medically fragile and whose safety would be the most at risk by a forced relocation from the out-of-state facility they have called home for years to a facility here in New Jersey.  Democrat Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle from Bergen County sponsored the legislation.  Assemblywoman Huttle expressed her concern that the practical effect of RHNJ shall be the realization of "minor savings at the expense of major consequences".  Consequences felt by families such as the Altruda family of Manalapan, the Loftus family of Hampton, the Clark family of Sparta and the Yip family from right here 'NTSG.   

Consequences that hopefully serve to remind all of us - including the wholly-uninformed among us (I am staring into a mirror while typing this so forgive any typos) - that while there may be significant decisions made by our elected officials that anger us for good cause, the NFL team for which they cheer is not now - and should not ever be - one of them.  

-AK 


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