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Alabama Consolidation Means Three Institutions Will Close
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 23, 2003

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA--Alabama officials plan to close three state-run institutions housing people with mental retardation and leave only one operating.

Kathy Sawyer, head of the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, sent a letter last Friday to state legislators and relatives of people in the institutions announcing that she proposes to close the Lurleen Wallace Developmental Center, the J.S. Tarwater Developmental Center and the Albert P. Brewer Developmental Center and move the residents into the William D. Partlow Developmental Center in Tuscaloosa.

The four facilities house a total of around 350 adults. Many of the facilities are less than half-full but are still expensive to operate. Wallace Center, for example, once housed more than 300 people but now houses just 69. The Brewer Center currently houses 61 residents.

The current plan is a consequence of what is known as the Wyatt Settlement, from a 1970s lawsuit that was finally settled in 2000. Under that settlement, Alabama agreed to move 300 people with mental retardation and 300 people with mental illness into more independent living arrangements in the community by September of 2003. Two years ago there were 632 people in the four state-operated facilities.

Sawyer's plan calls for closing one nursing home housing seniors with mental illness and relocating two others. Seventy-two long-term care beds at an institution for people with mental illness will also be relocated.

"The bottom line is, as the nature of mental health has shifted to quality, community-based care, there's less need for large institutional campuses," said John Ziegler, a spokesman for the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

Two of the institutions have been targeted for closure in part because residents were mistreated.

Brewer Center has become the focus of at least nine lawsuits related to abuse and neglect of its residents. In June 2001, the president of a pro-institution parent group sued the state and former employees of the Brewer Center where her daughter suffered an attack by poisonous hundreds of biting fire ants.

In the last six years, five residents at Wallace Center died under unusual circumstances. In 1996, a resident wandered onto the highway in front of the center and was killed by a car. Two years later, a resident drowned in a bathtub even though the staff knew he had a seizure disorder and should not have been left alone while bathing. Another resident died of natural causes, although a preliminary probe showed the person had been beaten. Last year, the family of one Wallace Center resident sued the state claiming she died of injuries suffered in a fall while being attacked in August 2000.

Last September, two former employees of Wallace Center were charged with homicide in connection with the strangulation death of a resident who died at the facility in the spring of 2002.

Related:
"Troubles in Alabama's Institutions" (Inclusion Daily Express)

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