Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Senator Bob Gordon and Senate President Steve Sweeney announced they have reached an agreement with the Christie Administration to end the state’s ‘Return Home’ policy as it currently exists.
Sen. Tom Kean speaking at a State House press conference on July 20, 2015 to announce an agreement to end the state’s ‘Return Home’ policy as it currently exists. (SenateNJ.com)
Under new legislation sponsored by the senators and agreed upon by the administration, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities would be prohibited from transferring an individual with a developmental disability currently residing out-of-state to a placement in New Jersey if the individual or their guardian objects in writing.
“Throughout this process I’ve heard heart-wrenching stories from many families concerned about the disruption and change in the level of care that will occur if their loved ones who had spent the majority of their life at one facility were suddenly uprooted and moved back to New Jersey,” said Senator Bateman (R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer). “This legislation recognizes those concerns by giving families and guardians the option to determine what’s best for the treatment of their loved one.”
“This legislation makes sure families have the ability to provide what is best for the health, safety and stability of their loved one,” said Senator Kean (R-Morris, Somerset, Union). “The flexibility provided to family members and guardians in this legislation along with the appropriate level of oversight maintained by the state creates the best path forward in ensuring the highest level of care and comfort is provided in each and every case.”
“Over the past year, we’ve heard from hundreds of families affected by the Return Home program who have shown us how disruptive this policy has been to their lives. It was clear we needed to change course. Our goal was always to ensure that families and their loved ones continue to have appropriate care that meets their unique needs, and that is what we’ve done,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This agreement will end the practice of bringing individuals who are receiving care out of state back to New Jersey without their approval. This is a more compassionate approach that will allow families to determine the best options for their loved ones without the fear or pressure that the old policy created. Importantly, it will give them the ability to keep their loved one in an out-of-state facility if that is their preference.”
“This is a smart and compassionate agreement that will preserve the right care and housing for those with developmental disabilities in other states,” said Senator Sweeney. “They should not be forced to leave their out-of-state homes and returned to New Jersey against their will and the wishes of their families, especially since the state doesn’t always have the right programs to meet their needs. This agreement respects the residents and their families and allows them to act in their best interests.”
Due to New Jersey’s inability to meet the needs of certain individuals with developmental disabilities, several hundred residents have been placed in out-of-state facilities over the course of decades in order to receive the services they required. In 2009, the DDD began the “Return Home New Jersey” initiative, which was designed to transfer individuals to community-based placements in New Jersey. The DDD stated they were pursuing federal matching funds that are not available for many out-of-state clients. More than 300 residents remain out of state.
Senator Gordon was the sponsor of legislation to impose a moratorium on the state’s ‘Return Home’ policy. The bill passed both houses and was vetoed by the governor; the override attempt held last month fell short by one vote.
The new bill will protect individuals with developmental disabilities in out-of-state placements from being transferred back to New Jersey without their or their guardian’s approval. The legislation provides very narrow exceptions. It would allow the transfer of an individual to a New Jersey placement: if the facility, client or guardian does not comply with certain state or federal requirements, including those related to the health and safety of the client; or if an individual changes providers after the effective date of the law. The provision concerning a change in provider would not apply, however, if the change is due to corporate or other organizational restructuring, or if the DDD is unable to provide the individual with equivalent necessary services and supports in state.
The legislation will be introduced and is expected to be considered by the full Senate Thursday. The Christie Administration agreed to implement the change administratively immediately.