Our statement on the closure of state institutions for people with developmental disabilities

Update: Two bills, SB 906 and HB 1918, have been introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature to place a moratorium on these closures. Learn more about why we and other advocates oppose these bills in this fact sheet, and contact your representatives. 

August 19, 2019–The Public Interest Law Center applauds recent news that Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services will close two of the four remaining state institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, transferring residents to home and community-based services. The closure of Polk State Center and White Haven State Center represent a step forward in the decades-long movement for greater integration and community participation of people with disabilities.

We have been part of this movement from the start. In our groundbreaking case, Halderman v. Pennhurst, we joined a class-action lawsuit filed by residents of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a large institution for people with developmental disabilities where residents were often denied educational services. We argued that the isolation and segregation of Pennhurst violated the constitutional rights of its residents, and the Court agreed. After a 10-year court battle, we reached a settlement to close Pennhurst in 1986 and provide residents with community-based services. We filed similar cases leading to the closure of two other Pennsylvania institutions, Embreeville State Hospital and the Western Center, and represented disability rights advocates seeking to expand community-based services in states across the country.

We strongly support continued efforts to take on the segregation and isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

We strongly support continued efforts to take on the segregation and isolation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Five decades ago, more than 13,000 Pennsylvanians with disabilities lived in state institutions. Now, there are only 720 remaining. As more of these residents leave these facilities, we will continue our efforts to ensure that community-based services meet the needs of people with disabilities.

The lived experience of thousands of Pennsylvanians serves as testimony that providing care through services based in homes and communities—rather than within isolated institutions—allows people with developmental disabilities to exercise greater autonomy in their lives and more fully participate in community life. We are thankful that the State of Pennsylvania continues to work towards a future where all Pennsylvanians, regardless of disability, will be able to live full lives in their communities with individualized services and support.