Governor tours R’ville group home; vows to proceed with closings of two state institutions

Gov. Chris Christie recently visited a home for developmentally disabled adults on Hilltop Place in Robbinsville, where he chatted with disabled visitors and their families about the importance of community-based residential programs for the developmentally disabled. Seated across from the governor is Denise Parno, who spent 25 years in a state institution before moving to a group home in Hamilton run by The Arc of Mercer. Parno’s sister, Michele Sherry, is on Christie’s left.

Photo by Joanne Degnan/The Robbinsville Sun    Gov. Chris Christie recently visited a home for developmentally disabled adults in Robbinsville.  Seated across from the governor is visitor Denise Parno, who spent 25 years in a state institution before moving to a group home in Hamilton run by The Arc of Mercer. Parno’s sister, Michele Sherry, is on Christie’s  immediate left.

Gov. Chris Christie toured a group home in Robbinsville for disabled adults and made it clear he wouldn’t reverse plans to close state institutions in Woodbridge and Totowa housing 750 developmentally disabled residents.

“We’re not revisiting it; it’s done,” Christie said March 7 when asked about the outcry at a recent public hearing about the planned closings of the North Jersey Developmental Center in Totowa and the Woodbridge Developmental Center.

“Some people are going to be happy with these decisions and some people are going to be unhappy,” Christie said. “The unhappy will have to be unhappy.

“These decisions have to be made, someone’s got to make them and I’m making them,” Christie added, noting the closings had been the recommendations of a special task force. Christie said he wasn’t about to reverse course now “just because three or four hundred people showed up at a hearing.”

Christie made his comments in the kitchen of a group home on Hilltop Place where five developmentally disabled residents between the ages of 60 and 80 live. The residents, some of whom work at outside jobs, have varied types of disabilities, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation and dementia.

The governor said there are “profound differences” among people with disabilities and smaller group homes are best suited to make the adjustments in care that allow each of the residents living there to reach their fullest potential.

“I think seeing a place like this reinforces for me what we’ve got to strive for for all those people who believe this is their best option at having the best quality of life they can have,” Christie said from a seat at the home’s kitchen table.

“We will always have developmental centers for folks who will be best served in that setting, but it doesn’t mean that everyone has to be in that setting,” Christie said.

NJ Human Services Commissioner Jane Velez and Gov. Chris Christie at a Robbinsville group home on March 7.

Photo by Joanne Degnan/The Robbinsville Sun       NJ Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez and Gov. Chris Christie at a Robbinsville group home on March 7.

The governor told the disabled adults and their guardians who were gathered in the kitchen, along with a throng of reporters, that he was trying to reduce the waiting list for group home placements by closing some of the larger institutions and shifting funding toward the operation of smaller group homes.

The governor met the elderly residents of the Robbinsville home in their rooms, but they did not join him for the kitchen table discussion that included Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez and several disabled adults from group homes in Hamilton and Ewing that came to Robbinsville with their guardians and families to see the governor.

Michele Sherry, of Yardley, Pennsylvania, told Christie her 58-year-old sister, Denise Parno, who has Down syndrome and dementia, spent 25 years in the Totowa institution, and is happier since moving in 1985 to a Hamilton group home run by ARC of Mercer, where she receives more personalized attention and care.

“She’s safe and in a loving home; they’re like her sisters there,” Sherry said. “It’s like the only home she’s ever known.”

 


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