As is the case with many of the staff at the Wrentham Developmental Center, John Maxell, supervisor of adapted physical education, sees his job as serving both the center’s residents and the surrounding community.
Maxell noted, for example, that he has been working at WDC with a man from the community who originally weighed more than 500 pounds and came to him for help in losing weight.
That man’s weight is now close to 300 pounds, Maxell said, and it is continuing to drop. Maxell made the comments to state legislators and others who were on a tour of WDC following a legislative breakfast there this past Tuesday.
The breakfast was hosted by State Senator Richard Ross of Wrentham and was co-sponsored by the WDC Board of Trustees and by a range of family-based groups including the Friends of Wrentham, COFAR, the WDC Family Association, and the SpeakEasy Advocacy Group at WDC.
“I invite you to look at WDC with new eyes,” Colleen Lutkevich, COFAR executive director, told the lawmakers, staff of the Department of Developmental Services, and family members who attended the legislative breakfast. “WDC is a true community.”
Lutkevich noted that she was speaking on behalf of her sister, Jean Sullivan, who has been a WDC resident for more than half a century.
In addition to Ross, legislators who attended the breakfast included Senator Paul Feeney of Attleboro; and Representatives Shawn Dooley of Medfield, Elizabeth Poirier of Attleboro, and Jeffrey Roy of Franklin.
Maxell pointed out that other people and groups from the surrounding community also use the fitness center at WDC, including members of local high school and community basketball, volleyball, and badminton teams. In return, those groups provide the center with monetary donations, which are used to buy exercise equipment for use by the center’s residents.
Similarly, community-based groups and individuals, including senior citizens, regularly use the therapeutic swimming pool at WDC, according to Peter Cutting, the lifeguard there.
Joanne Cummings, a member of the WDC Board of Trustees, who spoke at the breakfast, listed the services that are provided to the 263 residents at WDC, including clinical, medical services, nursing care, occupational and physical therapy, speech and language therapy, recreation therapy, and psychological counseling. The center also houses an acute care medical facility and a dental clinic.
Yet, while that array of centrally located services cannot be found in any community-based group homes in the commonwealth, WDC doesn’t necessarily have an institutional feel to it. The campus has a mix of larger buildings housing apartments and smaller, multi-bedroom homes.
As Cummings noted, “The facility of today is not the institution of the past.”
And yet, WDC and its community-based orientation are a “well-kept secret” by DDS, Lutkevich pointed out. Many family members and guardians have waited for residential placements from DDS for years without being informed that places like WDC, the Hogan Regional Center, and a network of state-operated group homes exist.
Lutkevich discussed the case of Alexa Horn, who was admitted to WDC only after the Marquardt skilled nursing facility on the grounds of the former Fernald Developmental Center, in which she had been living, closed. Prior to being admitted to the nursing facility, Alexa had suffered an unexplained broken leg and arm in a corporate-run group home funded by DDS.
Lutkevich recounted how Alexa’s parents, Pat and Michael Horn, told DDS while Alexa was at Marquardt that they did not want her sent back to the group home. But instead of promising to address and rectify the situation, a DDS official threatened the Horns with removing their daughter from DDS care and sending her back home. Luckily, that never happened. Pat Horn has described the care Alexa has received at WDC as “exquisite.”
Other parents have been able to get family members into WDC or into state-operated group homes only after hiring attorneys and engaging in legal action, Lutkevich said.
Since 2008, four of six remaining developmental centers in Massachusetts have been closed, leaving only WDC and the Hogan Regional Center in Danvers operating. A number of current WDC residents were transferred there from the closed centers, including Tom Doherty, who was on hand for Tuesday’s breakfast.
Doherty, who is 67, moved to WDC from the former Templeton Developmental Center in 2011. He now lives with four other men in a group home on the WDC campus.
The developmental centers, which are also referred to in federal regulations as Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs), are required to comply with more strict federal requirements for staffing and treatment than are community-based group homes. As a result, WDC and Hogan tend to have residents who are older and have more severe developmental disabilities and medical conditions on average than those in the community-based system.
The average age of the residents at WDC is 66. More than 90 percent of the residents there are over 55. Eighty-five percent of the residents at WDC are listed as having either a severe or profound level of intellectual disability as compared with 15 percent who have either a moderate or mild level of disability.
Due to that relatively old residential population and the fact that new residents are not routinely admitted to WDC or Hogan, the residential census in those facilities is dropping. At WDC, the residential census dropped from a peak of 323 in Fiscal 2013 to 272 at the start of the current fiscal year last July. Since July, that number has dropped by an additional 9 residents to 263 as of this month.
As Lutkevich stated in a message to the legislators who attended the breakfast this week, the push is on to change attitudes within the Legislature and administration about the continuing need for WDC, Hogan, and the state-operated group homes as part of DDS’s overall continuum of care. “Ultimately, we hope to find a way to persuade DDS and other policy makers to make WDC and other state-run programs available once again as options for care for people waiting for DDS services,” Lutkevich said.