The recent trend is to stop so-called
“institutionalizing” individuals with special needs. Policymakers
and journalists have latched onto the thinking that all special needs
individuals should integrate into the community. That is, they should
live in private homes for the handicapped and get busing to
work/activities in another location with cooperating medical
facilities nearby for their care.
Well, I am writing to tell the public
that this thinking does not work for all people, particularly those
with severe special needs. They need and should be entitled to
I will use the residential housing
community Woods Services in Langhorne, Pennsylvania as an example.
The Philadelphia Inquirer plans to run a series of articles on
alleged abuse and neglect at Woods. While it is true that they and
other residential housing facilities suffer from a shortage of people
willing to work with individuals with extreme disabilities, Woods
Services does its utmost to provide housing and round-the-clock
staffing for each client. They provide medical and dental services on
campus, including a shift of nurses for all their housing units. If,
God forbid, there is a life-or-death emergency, a client can receive
immediate medical care, which helps prevent a condition worsening or
For the school-age population, Woods
has a state licensed private school on campus that operates the whole
year, providing special education and supports like occupational
therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy. For non –verbal
clients, alternative communication devices like sign language and
voice output devices are also available.
For those over 21, Woods buses clients
to work sites on campus or out in the community, whichever is
appropriate for each client. Some of the on-campus work sites include
a coffee shop, a floral shop, and factory jobs. All positions include
a job coach.
All clients have on-campus
psychological and psychiatric services.
In addition, Woods provides trips like
going to the movies, the mall, and Philadelphia sports games all
through the year.
And no one is in danger of aging out.
People can live in this staff- and medical-supported residency
throughout their lifespan.
Politicians are supposed to serve and
represent the interests and needs of their constituents. Journalists
are supposed to report the news. Neither are experts in special needs
care. They should not decide or persuade the public that all
individuals with severe disabilities are suited for a
one-size-fits-all system. There is no system that is right for all
individuals—obviously, everyone has different needs and cannot
thrive with only one option.
One change I personally would like to
see in all group homes for special needs clients, and for nursing
homes as well, is more funding to increase the staffs’ salaries in
the hope of motivating more people to work in these residential
housing facilities. It takes a special person to work with people who
cannot take care of themselves through no fault of their own. They
are the unsung heroes.
Woods is unique in having a vigilant
staff. A few years ago, a client reportedly had a temper tantrum and
hid under a bus. The staff spotted the client and made sure he was
safe before the bus moved again.
cannot relate to the challenges of having a loved one with severe
special needs. But anyone could have a child, a sibling, or any other
relative who is born with a neurological disorder and that person may
require care at all times with no hope of ever living independently.
Family members need the peace of mind that goes along with knowing
their loved one is getting the care and services they require
round-the-clock. These families need places like Woods.