This afternoon, NCPR is reporting that the Sunmount Developmental Center is not slated for closure, as suggested by a statement earlier this week made by Commissioner Courtney Burke, head of the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.
Travis Proulx, a spokesman for OPWDD now says Sunmount isn’t on any closure list — period.
Before I go on, here’s exactly what Commissioner Burke said, during an interview on WCNY.
Interviewer: What about Sunmount in Tupper Lake? Is that going to be closing?
Burke: (As a direct answer to the question) We are seeking to close all of our developmental centers by the end of 2014.
Burke then went on to talk about the detailed planning and specialized services that would be needed to move people out of big institutional facilities.
Burke: It is a process and we’ve begun that process.
It’s important to note that this statement was made in the context of a long discussion about the closure of large institutional developmental facilities in New York state, including West Seneca State Institution.
It also followed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s surprise visit to Sunmount last year, where he signaled that the state budget crisis will threaten large government programs. “If I was a state worker, I would be afraid of what is ahead,” he told Sunmount staff.
Finally, the conversation followed a New York Times expose, published earlier this month, that suggested “systemic” patterns of abuse at Sunmount. (Staff and local government officials dispute that characterization.)
Given all that context, her statement was remarkable and it naturally sent shockwaves through the community.
More about that in a moment, but as an aside, I want to say a word or two about why NCPR reported Burke’s statements so swiftly. In an interview with WNBZ, Franklin County legislator Paul Maroun suggested that journalists may have jumped the gun.
“Somebody asked the question, is Sunmount on the list? She said all developmental centers are going to close. And they ran with that instead of following up and having her and her people really devise the answer properly,” Maroun said.
But Arbetter asked the question about Sunmount bluntly, directly and unambiguously. The commissioner answered in what appeared to be full candor.
I’ve listened to the interview several times and Burke seems to speak fully and confidently and knowledgeably about the issue.
What’s more, Burke’s comments seemed to fit a pattern of doubts expressed by state officials about Sunmount and its future.
Frankly, I think with all this confusion, I think it’s time for Commissioner Burke to make a public visit to Tupper Lake where she should lay out a vision for the future of Sunmount.
If this facility is different from the other big institutions slated for closure, how is it different? What is the long-term plan for using the facility, and for maintaining client counts and staffing levels?
With all the uncertainty that’s been raised by OPWDD and the Cuomo administration, we need to see the roadmap for the future in black and white.