Local News

Large Group Homes Could Be Replaced By Community Care For Developmentally Disabled

Posted July 21, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— People with developmental disabilities could be forced to move from larger facilities that have housed many of them their entire lives. An advocacy organization wants to phase out these large facilities, which house and treat 2,500 people with special needs in North Carolina. Many parents are concerned.

John David Andrews is 27, but doctors say he has the mental capacity of an 11-month-old child. For 13 years, he has lived at the Howell Center for people with developmental disabilities near New Bern.

The Association of Retarded Citizens(ARC) wants to phase out large facilities like the Howell Center and move clients into smaller group homes. John David's parents are concerned.

"There may be some that would qualify for a small group home that are more independent, but John David would never fit that description," says mother Nancy Andrews.

His father, John Andrews, feels good about the care John David has received. "It's a place where we know he is loved, taken care of and treated with dignity and respect," he says.

The Andrews spoke to a panel examiningNorth Carolina's mental health services.

But the Executive Director of ARC disagrees with the Andrews' position. "We think that most people with mental retardation can live in small community settings," says David Richard.

"We believe that everything being equal, if you have the same quality of staff, that a community setting provides a richer environment for individuals," he says.

Andree and Bill Stanford agree with ARC advocates. They say their son Dan "really likes this house and he likes his roommate."

The Stanfords say community care is the best option for their son, who receives 24-hour support from theAutism Society.

"They're continuing to grow and to learn and to develop more skills and to become more independent," Andree Stanford says.

"We think this can be better found in the community, at least for Dan, and we think probably for most folks, where they can be close to their family," Bill Stanford says.

People like Brenda Newcomb who live in group homes often become independent enough to hold jobs. Newcomb credits the group home staff for her progress.

"They helped me so much in learning all of this," Newcomb says. "They're so patient, they help you achieve a lot of stuff."

But constant, hands-on stimulation and a variety of services are things many say are only available at large facilities. Irene Howell owns seven facilities for the developmentally disabled.

"The services in the group homes are not equal to the facilities that we have in the larger centers," Howell says.

Administrators at Howell say if the large facilities close there will be nowhere for these clients to go because there are not enough group homes to take them.

And that's just what John David's parents are worried about. "We want John David to be here the rest of his life, we don't ever want him to leave," John Andrews says.

ARC says North Carolina is way behind other states when it comes to phasing out institutions. It estimates that it would take 10 to 15 years to do away with the large facilities for the developmentally disabled in North Carolina.

ARC has suggested that the state begin the process by closing one large public facility in the near future.