GALLIPOLIS — Ohio State Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, on Tuesday condemned last week’s decision by the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities to layoff 32 employees from the Gallipolis Developmental Center.
“It’s very frustrating to me because I don’t think that this needed to happen,” Smith said.
Smith, a Bidwell native and chairman of the House Finance Committee for the 131st Ohio General Assembly, attributed his opinion in part to U.S. Census numbers collected from all state developmental centers across Ohio going back as far as the fiscal year 2010. Between 2010 and 2016, Gallipolis saw a 73.2 percent reduction in clients. Estimated data says 213 residents were at the center in 2010. The census data now says clients number around 57.
The census drop is greater than even the roughly 69.2 percent drop in clients in Youngstown Developmental Center and the 61.4 percent drop in Montgomery Developmental Center. Southwest Developmental Center has seen a 5.8 percent drop in clients. Mount Vernon Developmental Center has seen a drop of 61 percent. Tiffin’s center has seen a drop in 45.6 percent of clients. Warrensville has seen a 33.8 percent drop. Columbus has seen a 25.4 percent drop and Cambridge has seen a 24.3 percent drop.
“When I took office, it (GDC) was the largest DC out of all the system,” Smith said. “Now, it’s the smallest.”
State officials last week told the Daily Tribune the Montgomery and Youngstown centers are being closed.
The Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities announced Friday it will be cutting 32 jobs to streamline costs to client count and create 18 part-time positions. According to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C., centers like GDC have been seeing a reduction in clients due to efforts to enforce the decision. According to www.ada.gov, the ruling seeks to “eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.”
The site further goes on to say “The Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate; (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.”
The website went further on to say “The Supreme Court explained that its holding ‘reflects two evident judgments.’ First, ‘institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life.’ Second, ‘confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.’”
U.S. justices were further reported as saying, “We emphasize that nothing in the ADA or its implementing regulations condones termination of institutional settings for persons unable to handle or benefit from community settings … Nor is there any federal requirement that community-based treatment be imposed on patients who do not desire it.”
Smith said he was told the measurements of costs in a developmental center are calculated on cost per client. When a client population is decreased, then the cost per client goes up because there are more employees to pay for.
“You could see where we were headed with this,” Smith said.
Smith said Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities staff approached him to tell him the center was overstaffed. He then went on to say it was “hard for him to swallow because it was of our own making” because of clients moving away from the center and the state not taking on new clients at the facility. He feels other clients had moved to other developmental centers in the state as well, as opposed to not being in the Gallipolis center.
Smith said he feels the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities — and potentially the Gov. John Kasich administration — have “had a bias” toward the Gallipolis Developmental Center.
“Those two places, in Cincinnati and Columbus, you can throw a rock and get another job,” Smith said. “Around here, this is the best job that (GDC workers) may have. It’s a good government job with a lot of great benefits. So, economically it kills the area. And more importantly, I think it’s unfair to the clients.”
Smith noted southeast Ohio often has challenges with job-making opportunities. GDC has had a history of layoffs since 2010, experiencing a total of 148 without having acquired new clients. Many of GDC’s buildings sit vacant and unused as new clients have not visited the facility in the same numbers they had in the past.
Union workers with GDC previously told the Daily Tribune the state and the center were having talks about taking care of new clients with both developmental and mental health needs.
“After the 2013 situation, I sat down with the governor and his chief of staff and Director (Greg) Moody (of the Ohio Office of Health Transformation) and he promised me (GDC) would not close,” Smith said. “So, technically he has kept his word to me on that, but I would argue it (GDC) is a shell of what it once was.”
GDC was arguably one of the largest employers in Gallia County at one time. Smith noted the region had unique economic challenges and that he could not do anything when a private company decided to close its doors and move on. When it came to government jobs, though, he said that is something he takes more issue with.
“It’s not a bad budget time,” Smith said. “If this was a situation where they said, ‘Hey, we have to cut across the board (financially),’ I might be able to swallow that a little bit better. (Columbus Developmental Center) and Southwest, and all these other areas, they’re not getting cut (like GDC), with the exception of Youngstown and Montgomery. They’re closing.”
Smith said he understands the Olmstead court decision and why it was made. However, he feels the way the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities is integrating change may be doing more harm than good in regard to area jobs and the care of clients with severe, long-term needs.
“Somebody could be at home with mom and dad and go into crisis or they could be in a group home and go into crisis,” John Martin, director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, told the Tribune about GDC’s transition. “They come into our centers. We do crisis stabilization and then follow them back into the community and support them there. That’s been one of the transitions that we have done.”
According to union members Monty Blanton, staff representative with Ohio Civil Service Employment Association, and Rosetta Wells, current GDC employee and vice president of the OCSEA Gallipolis Chapter 2710, the pair feel clients are potentially being “strongly encouraged” to leave the developmental center. They feel clients are being told their needs could not be met, despite having previously had a larger staff to take care of said clients. They say there are some families and clients content to stay with the facility as they have spent many years there and call it home.
Kasich’s communication director, James Lynch, said Martin has a tough job and the governor has “great confidence in Martin’s ability to make the right decisions.” Lynch said the governor’s office has steered $300 million in new funds towards Ohioans with developmental disabilities.
Martin also reportedly has family with developmental needs and understands the struggles of families with those same challenges. Lynch also said that in a home care setting, caretakers having long-term relationships with individuals can now administer greater types of medications and practices due to changes Kasich has sought to implement.
Martin said Friday that to cut employees was a difficult decision, but one needed to streamline costs for client care.
Smith responded strongly to the reported action that Martin did not appear to announce layoffs to the employees at GDC.
“Go face the people and the consequences of what you’re doing,” Smith said. “That’s the problem with this (Gov. Kasich’s) administration has had throughout their agencies. Nobody wants to leave the 30th floor and get out of their ivory tower and go find out from the stakeholder the practical application of the decision they are going to make and the consequences that come with it.”
Smith noted legislators live in communities and its their job to relay problems to the state government.
“They have got to know there is a better way to do this,” Smith said. “You can’t take an Appalachian region that is struggling as it is and facing challenges and kick us in the teeth while nobody else is losing jobs (like the regions) elsewhere. I just can’t take that. I don’t care if he’s (Kasich) the same (political) party or not.”
Smith said he would be writing a “frank” letter to Kasich about how “displeased” he is with the situation and to meet with him in person.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.