State to close facility in 2015
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A move by the Cuomo Administration to shut down four large facilities housing the severely developmentally disabled is having a devastating effect on a Bensonhurst couple whose grown son has been living in a Brooklyn center for 35 years.
Anthony and Mary Ann Cosentino said their son John, 49, desperately needs the services he receives at the Brooklyn Developmental Center (BDC), the state-run facility where he lives in Spring Creek.
“I’m worried about my son’s safety if we have to move him. BDC is a good setting for him. They do a good job of taking care of him there. BDC has nursing 24/7. He gets one-to-one coverage. It’s a nice atmosphere, too. It looks like a college campus,” Cosentino told the Brooklyn Eagle.
The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) announced last September that BDC and three other large-scale, lockdown facilities would be closed over the next three years under a new initiative by Cuomo to shutter large-scale, Willowbrook-type centers for the developmentally disabled in favor of placing the residents in small, intimate, group home settings in residential communities.
BDC, located at 888 Fountain Ave., is slated to close by December 31, 2015.
Anthony Cosentino said he doubts that a small, group home can keep his son safe. John Cosentino, who was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three, requires constant supervision, according to his father.
The Cosentinos visit their son three or four times a week at BDC.
“It looks like the state wants to get out of the business of taking care of the developmentally disabled. This has hurt me to the core,” Cosentino told the Eagle. “These small group homes sound nice, but they don’t have the staffing and they don’t have people trained to take care of someone with severe problems. What are they going to do if a resident gets up in the middle of the night and starts banging his head against the wall?”
The Cosentinos are waging a grassroots fight to keep BDC open. Anthony Cosentino has organized a petition drive on change.org and is asking people to sign it.
Not only will the residents be out of a home if BDC closes, but the health care workers employed at the facility will be out of jobs, Cosentino said. The Civil Service Employees of America (CSEA) represents the workers. The union has spoken out against the closure.
The Cosentino family is also getting some support from elected officials. Two lawmakers, state Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton) and Assemblywoman Donna Lubrano (D-Binghamton) are pushing a bill to postpone the closures of state-run facilities for the developmentally disabled until April 1, 2017, a move that would buy time the Cosentinos and other families in similar situations.
Several Brooklyn assembly members, including Peter Abbate (D-Bensonhurst) and Joseph Lentol (D-North Brooklyn) have also signed on as sponsors of the bill, called the Freeze Unsafe Closures Now Act. In the state senate, Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) has signed on as a co-sponsor of the Libous bill.
WBGN, a news station in Binghamton, reported in November that Libous was determined to prevent the closures from happening quickly. “You know they say there's savings on the state side," Libous told the station. "I want to see what the savings are, I don't believe it. I don't believe the numbers are as great as they say and we have a population of citizens that we need to protect and I'm going to fight to do that."
In addition to BDC, the other institutional campuses targeted for closure are: the Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center in Schenectady, slated to close by March 31, 2015; the Broome Developmental Center in Binghamton, slated to close by March 31, 2016; and the Bernard M. Fineson Developmental Center in Queens, slated to close by March 31, 2017.
The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities issued a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle defending the closure of BDC and the other facilities.
“OPWDD believes that the majority of individuals can live in the community with the right services and supports. Individuals who continue to need more intensive treatment will receive necessary services in the setting most appropriate for them, with the goal of fully integrated community supports when it is clinically appropriate,” the statement reads.
Individuals at BDC who require more intensive care in an institutional setting will be treated at two sites in New York State: Sunmount, a facility in Tupper Lake, and Valley Ridge, a center in Norwich, according to OPWDD.
Officials also pointed out that New York State has closed 14 large-scale institutions over the past two decades and has gone from having close to 27,000 people living in 20 institutions to fewer than 1,000 people living in just a handful of institutional settings.
But Cosentino is considering filing a lawsuit against the state. “Our last resort is to seek redress through the courts,” he told the Eagle.