Gregoire, keep Rainier School open

Dear Gov. Gregoire:

On Oct. 15, a draft report recommending the closure of several institutions under the jurisdiction of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Department of Corrections (DOC) was released. This draft report, among other things, recommended the closure of the Rainier School in Buckley, Washington, by 2019, as well as the recommendation that Washington state abandon the Residential Habilitation Center (RHC) model all together.

Your recently released proposed budget acts upon this study and targets Rainier School for closure in 2014. As the elected officials of the areas around the Rainier School, we are writing to show our extreme disagreement with the methodology, arguments, and conclusions of this draft study and our opposition to the proposal to close the school in your proposed 2010 supplemental budget.

The arguments in this study are not new, and the authors themselves even state that the majority of their research was done by examining previous studies on the topic. We understand that the state is in a state of sustained fiscal crisis, but we need to examine the conclusions of this report.

In examining the draft report, it is clear that this proposal does not save money during the time where we most need it. The state is facing a significant shortfall in the 2010 budget, and the draft report freely admits that the closure of just 250 RHC beds will cost $1,815,363 on top of current operating costs in that year alone, and in fact, this proposal will not break even until 2013. What other critical service will the state need to cut to facilitate cutting these 250 critical needs beds?

It also is worth pointing out that the report says that this proposal does not break even until 2013, but then shows cost savings as early as 2011. These statements are not compatible. This is indicative of the methodology flaws in this report. Additionally, the state and the community have invested time and money in the growth of the area, recently spending $4.2 million in state funds for a new sewer treatment plant. In addition, new generators for the school have been purchased and asbestos abatement has just been completed. Abandoning this facility would turn these investments into a waste and a total loss to the taxpayers.

It also must be pointed out that this report is just the last in a long line of pushes from the contingent that believes that all RHCs should be closed and that all residents of these facilities should be moved into a community setting. This is exactly the same one-size-fits-all argument that was once applied as criticism of the RHCs themselves. Developmental disabilities come in wide array of forms and levels. Most folks with developmental disabilities can and should live, with varying degrees of assistance, in the community. However, there is a small percentage that have disabilities of such a level that they need to have a safe, secluded place where they can live without fear. For nearly 400 residents in Buckley, the Rainier School is that place. Those that advocate the forced normalization and the draconian closure of the home of these residents are simply trying to push an ideology that is no longer valid: that RHCs like the Rainier School are institutions that warehouse the disabled. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This perception persists, and while there was truth to it many years ago, the Rainier School of today is a self-contained community where the residents can live, work, and play without the fear of being victimized by unscrupulous individuals or getting lost or hurt because there is no one looking out for them. This facility is so well thought of, that there is a long waiting list to gain admittance. Many of the residents of the Rainier School moved there as children, and have lived most of their lives there. Much of the staff have been there for years, and have formed strong relationships with the residents. Moving them would be a trauma to vulnerable citizens that thrive on consistency. In fact, where similar proposals of forced relocation were tried, the mortality rate of these citizens shot to nearly 67 percent.

In 2006, Washington state was sued by a group of parents and guardians after five severely developmentally disabled men and women were traumatized by numerous transfers. Plaintiffs contended the transfer trauma caused the residents to engage in self-destructive behavior, becoming uncooperative, hitting staff, tearing at their clothes, and in one instance, running away. We are concerned that closure of Rainier on such a massive scale could not be physically or emotionally handled by many of its medically fragile residents. The liability to Washington state would be significant.

Any attempt to force these citizens into dangerous and unhealthy situations is, and we need to remember the commitments we have all made to protecting those that cannot help themselves.

There will always be a conflict between those that cannot get beyond the stigma attached to places like the Rainier School and those that want to ensure access to comprehensive care for the most vulnerable among us. Our job as elected officials is to examine all sides and find solutions that address the real problem: we have more folks needing these services than we have money to provide for them. The answer is not forcing people into situations that are dangerous for them and that, in our current budget crisis, actually cost more money and make our fiscal situation worse. The answer is to understand that we need the flexibility to address the wide spectrum of disabilities and find a way to leverage the services that our state facilities can provide to cover the gap.

Closing the Rainier School would devastate the City of Buckley and much of the surrounding area. At a time where national unemployment is over 10 percent and it is increasingly hard for the out of work to find jobs, we would be adding 1,100 formerly employed workers to the rolls. This increases the strain on our already overburdened safety net. Additionally, there are services on campus at the Rainier School that are used by folks that do not live there, including critical medical services like dentistry. Closing the Rainier School would remove the ability for vulnerable citizens in the community to access these services.

We hope you will take a step back and truly consider all facets of this equation before proposing such a drastic step. What happened to those who were shoved out into the community in other jurisdictions that tried this? In the end, were savings even realized? Until we can answer those questions, and find a proposal that truly does save us money when we need it to, then we cannot, in good conscience take this step.

Rep. Christopher Hurst

Senator Pam Roach

Rep. Dan Roach

31st Legislative District

Councilman Shawn Bunney

Pierce County Council

Mayor Pat Johnson

City of Buckley

Mayor-Elect Liz Reynolds

City of Enumclaw

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