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 options.
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 even death.
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.
Most people 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.