Ending Texas’ System of Institutionalized Care

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Mary Faithfull, Executive Director

 

As advocates who fight daily to protect the rights of people with disabilities in our state, we are disheartened by the continuing sentiment that people with disabilities are better off segregated in large state-run institutions. Our collective experience has taught us that most people with disabilities live safer, healthier, happier lives when more fully integrated into the community, living among family and friends.

Despite lawmakers’ best intentions, Texas’ state supported living centers (SSLCs) are failing to meet even the most basic needs of the nearly 4,000 people with disabilities who are segregated in these substandard institutions. The state’s commitment to providing quality services and supports for these citizens is best served by fully embracing the numerous opportunities to transition people out of these facilities into smaller community-based options of their choice, including foster companion care, group homes and residents’ own family homes, by supporting a person’s right to self-determination and by expanding person-centered planning.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. (1999) requires states to place individuals with mental disabilities “in community settings, rather than in institutions, whenever treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate, [and] the affected persons do not oppose such placement….” Despite this federal charge and substantial evidence that people with disabilities thrive in the community, the state continues to determine that institutional care is best for these individuals. In fact, Department of Justice monitoring reports indicate that only about 5 to 8 percent of Texas SSLC residents are transitioned into the community each year.

The state has processes in place to assist people with disabilities in moving from state-run facilities to less restrictive (and significantly less expensive) community-based settings. Many people living in SSLCs have made their preferences known, choosing integrated service options over institutions. Yet, they remain institutionalized because the SSLC personnel charged with aiding their transition lack the knowledge and motivation to help these individuals achieve successful outcomes. Texas must stop perpetuating this system of institutional care.

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have more desirable quality of life opportunities today than ever before. They can now live happy, safe, healthy lives in a community-based setting that fully meets their service and support needs. As such, the state must do a better job of upholding and protecting the rights of these individuals.

Texans often extol the importance of living proud and free, and yet we continue to deny an entire segment of our society the opportunity to do the same. In the process, we degrade their inherent dignity and minimize their value as members of society.

Isn’t it time that as citizens of this great state, we recognize that we can do better? Isn’t it time that we actually do?