14th District lawmakers protect Yakima Valley School from closure
OLYMPIA… Up to 70 percent of residents living at Yakima Valley School for the developmentally disabled have called it home for 25 to 30 years. With the passage of Senate Bill 5459 today, the Washington State Legislature will allow them to remain at the Selah facility for the rest of their lives.
The measure will close the Frances Haddon Morgan developmental disability facility in Bremerton by Dec. 31, but sets in place a plan to gradually reduce the number of residents at YVS. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, worked to keep the facility's residents and staff in place for as long as possible.
“Our utmost concern is what happens to those who call Yakima Valley School their home, and we didn't want that to change,” King said, “but we quickly came to the realization that the school is going to close at some point soon. There's just no two ways about it. So rather than wait for that day to come, we decided to be proactive about determining the ultimate fate of the facility.”
King, along with his 14th District seatmates, Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, and Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches, has been heavily involved in the development of SB 5459 since the facility closure plan first surfaced several months ago.
“Most of the residents have lived at Yakima Valley School nearly all their lives. The facility is all they know and are familiar with. Many staff members have worked at the school for a lengthy period of time and have established long-term relationships with the residents. I am very concerned that any displacement of these residents would have severe and even deadly consequences,” said Johnson. “When California tried something similar in the 1990s by closing facilities to save money, the mortality rate for residents moved into other care increased 67 percent as a direct result. For medically fragile residents with numerous health concerns, 'transfer trauma' is a life-or-death issue. We need to save lives, not just money. I'm very glad we have found a way to keep the residents in Yakima Valley School.”
“This is an important step toward consolidating our residential habilitation centers,” said Ross. “We must ensure we have viable options for families who want their loved ones to remain in an RHC, while providing an effective means of providing these services. I am pleased the Yakima Valley School will remain open to serve Eastern Washington families and their loved ones with developmental disabilities.”
The bill requires the state Department of Social and Health Services, which operates Yakima Valley School, to allow residents now at the facility to remain until they pass away. Once the total population at YVS diminishes to 16 or fewer, the state will convert two of the facility's cottages to “state operated living alternatives” – or SOLAs – and move the remaining residents into the two SOLAs. At that time, the state will no longer consider Yakima Valley School a residential habilitation center.
Under the new law, there will continue to be a number of temporary respite and crisis beds at YVS; however, there will not be any new residents admitted for other than respite and crisis needs. As the facility's population declines, lawmakers will work toward expanding the five-floor medical facility on the property, which houses a dental clinic. With the help of DSHS, the building will become a regional medical center for developmentally disabled patients from all over Central Washington.
In addition, the 14th District lawmakers will work with DSHS and Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health to structure a program that allows the expanded facility to receive up to 30 patients from Eastern State Hospital, the state-run mental hospital in Medical Lake. King added that he, Ross and Johnson are committed to transforming the building into a center of excellence within the developmental-disability community.
The bill also establishes a legislative task force to study and make recommendations on the long-term need for statewide residential habilitation center capacity.
Senate Bill 5459 now goes to the governor to be signed into law.
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