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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

April 23, 2009 at 4:30 PM

Closing Yakima Valley institution

Compassion for vulnerable citizens, please

It is shameful and deceitful that the head of The Arc of King County, allegedly representing all developmentally disabled citizens, ignores the plight and special needs of our most profoundly, severely disabled, who require the special, skilled care available only in the full-service, cost-effective state residential schools with highly trained permanent staff [“Move Yakima Valley institution residents into community,” seattletimes.com, Opinion, Sylvia N. Fuerstenberg column, April 20].

Sylvia N. Fuerstenberg would callously evict fragile Yakima Valley School residents into for-profit, scattershot-service community homes, many with unskilled, high-turnover staff. Even moving some to other residential habilitation centers (RHCs) would impose a crushing burden on families wanting to be close to their loved ones.

She tries to peddle the vision that current low-functioning RHC residents could eloquently testify in Olympia. Sadly, this is false. The former RHC resident featured in her spin story probably should have been placed into a community facility, as has already taken place with many other high-skilled residents who don’t require intensive, 24-hour skilled care.

Even worse, Fuerstenberg wrongly claims evicting Yakima residents into often-failing community homes would save money. She should know that nobody seems to know exactly how much community homes cost per client. Why? Community funding comes from dozens of public sources, with little or no agreement on total costs.

In contrast, complete funding for the state’s five RHCs comes from just one source: the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Past studies show costs are about the same for full-service RHCs and for-profit community facilities. Community advocates often wrongly cite the low partial-cost funding from DSHS, but fail to mention the many other funding sources for community facilities.

Most disturbing, the spokesperson for Arc ignores the true helpless conditions and abilities of the average resident at the state’s RHCs, such as Yakima Valley School, The Fircrest School, Frances Haddon Morgan and others.

A little compassion and understanding, please, for our most vulnerable citizens, who require safe, cost-effective campus homes with needed emergency and other care at hand.

— Philip R. Scheier, Shoreline

Response from Yakima Valley parent

Sylvia N. Fuerstenberg’s column was full of misinformation about Yakima Valley School. Yes, we call it a school because the people who live there are consistently learning new things. Calling it an institution it gives the impression of an archaic, dark building where nobody is seen or heard about in public –a very distorted view from many, many years ago.

Neither Fuerstenberg nor anyone else has the right to tell me where my son should live and what would be best for him. I know what is best for him — I am his mother. I used to be an Arc supporter, but not anymore, and I am not alone in that decision. I have the right under the Olmstead Act to choose where my son lives, and I choose Yakima Valley.

The middle-aged lady who spoke at the hearings was able to speak for herself, and herself only. Those comments do not reflect the rest of the folks that cannot speak for themselves. Community living is not for everyone and regardless of misinformation, many people’s needs cannot be meet adequately in the community. At YVS, the staff is very well-trained and most have been there for 20 years or more. They know each person’s needs.

Residents live in very nice duplexes with their own rooms, which are decorated to suit their personalities. They have a very nice, fenced backyard so they can go outside whenever they want. Meals are specifically prepared for each person’s special diet and needs. They are also taken on outings all the time. My son has a wonderful staff that takes him to the fair and monster-truck shows, just because he loves trucks.

Fuerstenberg did not bother to interview any family members of the folks who are there so they could tell their side of the story and what they think is best. There have been several deaths after traumatic moves for these people and lawsuits as a result of these moves. Who wants to take responsibility for that?

Gov. Chris Gregoire and many others legislators have been invited to visit YVS to see for themselves what a great place it is, but no one has bothered to do so. Instead, they make their decisions by sitting behind desks and reading inadequate information.

It is not about the difficulty of making a change; it is about the safety and well-being of our loved ones.

— Sharon Juza, Auburn

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