People First of Oregon    

Fairview: The Closing Chapter


Former Fairview residents not a public risk
This guest opinion is by Barry S. Kast, Administrator, Administrator, Mental Health and Developmental Disability Services Division of the Oregon Department of Human Resources. Phone (503) 945-9712

Recently on a radio talk show, a rural law-enforcement official blamed much of the violent crime in his community on former residents of Fairview Training Center who had left the facility to be housed in local group homes.

That simply isnıt true. Very few former Fairview residents pose any public risk, and those who do are closely supervised in secure environments.

Unfortunately, however, the allegation reveals one of several fears and myths that are circulating about Fairview residents as we get closer to shutting down the facility in Salem. These kinds of misunderstandings cast a cloud over Fairview at a time when we really need public support to help residents make the transition to living in group homes around the state.

Plans to close Fairview are irreversible, and closure is the right thing to do. Itıs best for the residents; they deserve and have a legal right to be able to experience lives as close to normal as possible.

While Fairview staff individualize residentsı care as much as possible, institutional life is not the same as living in a small home. More than 4,500 individuals are living in community residential programs in Oregon, and the remaining 290 Fairview residents will leave the institution by July 2000.

Equally as important, the closure will make available millions of dollars that will be used to provide services to people on waiting lists all over the state.

In Lane County, for example, there are nearly 600 adults and children with developmental disabilities waiting for services. Some have been waiting for years. Not everyone on waiting lists will get services because there just isnıt enough money to go around at this time. But many will get services, such as home modifications to improve wheelchair accessibility, that will improve the lives of those with disabilities. Many families now have the ability to keep their families intact and keep disabled children at home, and closure of Fairview will help more families do so.

Some Fairview residents were admitted to the facility as children and have been there all their lives. And parents or guardians of some residents want the state to keep Fairview open. Their feelings are sincere, but experience and research show that community-based services are better for people with developmental disabilities.

Itıs true that several people we plan to move from Fairview have had serious behavioral problems. However, it is wrong to refer to them as ³sex offenders,² as one newspaper did recently in an article about residents of one Fairview cottage.

Because of their backgrounds and disabilities, a few Fairview residents have difficulty expressing themselves appropriately, mainly with peers in their own living situations. They have not committed sexual offenses against members of the public.

In some cases, the fact that the state has raised individuals with disabilities in segregated environments with few opportunities for normal sexual expression has contributed to their problems.

We are planning to place those with more serious problems in state-operated group homes where they will have close supervision and the best environment for the help they need.

Regardless of where we place any of the people leaving Fairview, public safety is a high priority. Close supervision, quality care and, where needed, counseling in environments as close to normal as possible are the best approaches for persons with developmental disabilities in Lane County and throughout the state.

Department of Human Resources News: May 7, 1998