Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the bill that would have prevented Polk Center in Venango County from closing.
On Wednesday, Wolf rejected Senate Bill 906, which would have put a moratorium on the closing of any state center. The bill was introduced after the Department of Human Services announced the closing of two of the remaining four state centers – Polk and White Haven, in Luzerne County.
The bill would have blocked the closure of any state center for at least five years and put the decision to close any state center in the hands of the task force created by the bill.
“Specifically, this legislation is in response to the recent announcement of the closures of two state-operated centers: Polk State Center and White Haven State Center," Wolf said. "These centers are large institutions that are costly to maintain and do not promote community living. As individuals have transitioned to the community, the need for state-operated centers has declined. It should be acknowledged that closures of state centers have always been controversial. The process that the Department of Human Services has followed for state center closure announcements was established to provide for the planful transition of residents and staff and to honor agreements with the employee unions. The department has followed this announcement procedure for the last two decades. The Department fully understands the gravity of the decision to close a center and has extensive procedures in place for such closures.
Wolf said his administration will continue to work with residents, their families and the employees of the state centers to provide a smooth and safe transition.
House Health Committee Chairman Kathy Rapp, whose district includes parts of Crawford County, advanced legislation to help keep the centers open in December.
“Every time an established treatment facility such as Polk and White Haven is shut down, it greatly increases the possibility that our most vulnerable citizens with intellectual disabilities will wind up unnecessarily incarcerated, unfairly exploited or otherwise victimized in mainstream society,” Rapp said in December after the House passed the measure 139-55..
In November, the Senate passed the moratorium legislation with a bipartisan vote of 40-9.
“This legislation reflects a fundamental respect for the safety and dignity of the frailest of the frail and promises to preserve the only home that many Polk and White Haven residents have ever known, and one that best meets their needs,” said state Sen. Michele Brooks after the passage in November. Brooks' district includes all of Crawford County.
In August, the state announced that Polk and White Haven would close within three years. Officials said the decision was part of a decades-long process of moving away from providing care for individuals in institutions and moving them into community-based settings like group homes.