People First of Oregon     

Fairview: The Closing Chapter


Fairview closure plan calls for 50 group homes

State officials unveiled July 9 a controversial plan to close Fairview Training Center in Salem and move its 300 developmentally disabled residents into 50 new group homes by the year 2000.

The shift would reduce costs 13.6 percent to $110 million per biennium, state officials say, and allow the state to transfer money to many of the 3,500 disabled people now held in limbo on Fairview's waiting list. The facility has been closed to newcomers since 1989.

"I've been waiting a long time and I think it's time for fairness for us now," said Cathy Feller, a single parent who had to quit her job to care for her 21-year-old daughter Krissie. Krissie is blind and has cerebral palsy and other disabilities which require she be fed through a tube. Her intellectual level is equivalent to an 8-month-old infant.

Maritza Soler, whose 22-year-old daughter was born with extensive brain damage, echoed Feller's concerns. Soler's daughter also has been on the waiting list. There are no guarantees, but Fairview's closure could make state funds available to help parents such as Feller and Soler.

State-owned Fairview has been a source of controversy since 1985. A federal lawsuit over residents' civil rights forced the state to reduce the number of residents it served and add more staff. Fairview now accounts for about 30 percent of the Office of Developmental Disability Services' budget, even though it serves only 3 percent of the population which needs the services.

But critics say the state plan unnecessarily uproots Fairview's residents, and that severely disabled patients may be difficult to serve in smaller group homes. One woman said she doubted that her profoundly retarded 33-year-old sister, with the motor skills of a 1-year-old, would do well outside Fairview, where she's lived for 28 years.

James Toews, director of ODDS, said that people with similar disabilities already are situated in community-based programs. The department has begun a statewide series of forums on the proposal.

"It's painful to a lot of people," Toews told a gathering of more than 100 people in Portland. However, he added, "At some point I have to look you in the eye and say I can't afford to serve your son or your daughter at that price tag. Whether we like it or not, a significant portion of this plan is driven by cost."

Sherryll Johnson Hoar, community relations officer for the Oregon Department of Human Resources, said she understands concerns raised by relatives of those now at Fairview. "When they placed their family members [at Fairview], there was no alternative," said Johnson Hoar. But now, with the outgrowth of community-based facilities such as the Kerr Development Disability Center in Portland, new and less costly options are available.

Fairview's closure is part of a trend toward decentralization at state institutions across the United States. That trend also opens up new business opportunities for non-profit care providers.

Oregon's plan calls for the state to build the new facilities, with the objective of leasing most to private operators.

"This is going on around the country," said Bud Thoune, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and Southwest Washington. Thoune said he supports the closure. "Right now at Fairview each person costs $190,000 a year; in the community the average is about $40,000 a year."

Toews blames the federally mandated increases in staffing ratios for many of Fairview's budget woes. Fairview had 1,500 residents and 800 staff members in 1986 when Toews joined the facility. Now, as a result of federal requirements, there are 360 residents and a staff of 1,400. Serving Fairview's projected 305 residents in the 1997 98 biennium will cost about $127.3 million.

The new proposal, with a mix of state and private group homes, would cost $69.3 million to serve existing Fairview clients. Another $21 million has been added to gradually increase wages for care providers of the disabled to reduce existing turnover rates of more than 70 percent.

About $14 million to provide cash or services will go to roughly half of those on the waiting list. A backup service fund of $5.7 million is also planned. That will bring the plan's total cost to $110 million.

"This is a package deal," said Toews. "You can't implement the closure of Fairview in isolation of other dilemmas facing the community system."

The governor and Legislature will have to approve the controversial plan, however, before any of the 360 residents now at Fairview are relocated. The state is expected to sell the 505,000-square-feet Fairview, which sits on 260 acres in southeast Salem. But currently there's no mandate that sale funds go toward the needs of the developmentally disabled.

Even closure isn't a cure-all, said Katheryn Weit, a member of the Oregon Developmental Disabilities Council and the parent of a 17-year-old son with autism. Weit hopes she might be eligible for state funds for training or respite care as a result of the closure. But she's not counting on it. "There will never be enough money," she said.

by Kathy Brock
The Business Journal:  Portland July 15, 1996