People First of Oregon 

Fairview: The Closing Chapter


Fairview not alone in closing

This week the last residents of Fairview Training Center packed their belongings and said some final goodbyes, while a van and its driver waited nearby to take them toward their first step on a new journey.

Like others who went before them they left what some have called a lifeline, a haven, a home. Ahead, they'll discover neighborhoods within communities, friends and families who are minutes rather than hours away, and homes with familial interaction.

Throughout the nation, hundreds of institutions similar to Fairview are closing. What began as pilot programs - moving people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities from institutions to community settings - are now standard practice.

Oregon began to open group homes for people with developmental disabilities in the early 1980s. The initial reaction was mixed. On the one hand, this federal mandated closure would save millions, and more Oregonians would be able to receive services because of those savings.

On the other hand, Fairview has been home and a place of employment for thousands of people for 92 years. Families who came to know and trust the staff and services of Fairview for their loved ones wanted to preserve this safeguard.

For many, these feelings gradually gave way to feelings Of support. Fairview did not close its doors overnight. For more than a decade, we developed and followed a careful plan that would ensure safe passages for all our residents.

I cannot speak for all the people who resided here, but I know many were excited about moving and looking forward to the opportunities beyond the grounds of Fairview.

At some point, most of us move into our own homes. Fairview has served its purpose. But it's an outdated model, and it's time for all of us to move on.

Dormitory-style living is for hostels and summer camps. Our residents now live in homes where they have their own rooms that they decorate themselves with family photographs and other personal items.

They have more privacy and more choices about what they eat and in which activities they participate than we could provide at Fairview.

Our critics have argued that Fairview residents' disabilities and treatment needs require the skill level found in an institution.

The reality is that for every Fairview resident, others with equivalent disabilities are living successfully in group homes, foster homes or the homes of their families. High-quality services are available in the community, and they're getting better all the time. Many former Fairview staff are now employed in the community.

The overall cost savings will allow more people with disabilities to be served. However, because of their needs former Fairview residents will continue to receive a significant portion of service dollars even after moving to the community.

Fairview, as known to its residents and staff, closed Thursday. In another month the buildings will have been stripped and anything of value surplused.

The residents and staff who snared Friday night dances, annual holiday events and a daily life of challenges and triumphs brought Fairview's park-like setting to life. The contrast is sharp to the almost-deserted campus, whose ghost-town feel became more marked as the last van rolled down the driveway.

This article by John Cooper was published by the Salem Statesman Journal, February 26, 2000 as a guest opinion

Jon Cooper is the superintendent of the Fairview Training Center in South Salem. It is managed by the Oregon Department of Human Services' Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Division.