AFSCME Council 13 opposes DHS decision to close two state centers

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has announced plans to close Polk State Center in Venango County and White Haven State Center in Luzerne County over the course of three years.

These facilities provide 24-hour supported living, medical care and developmental activities, to people with intellectual disabilities. This move would not only affect the lives of the people who live in these centers, but it would affect the hundreds of workers who serve the residents on a constant basis.

Many of those workers are represented by AFSCME Local 1050 (Polk) and AFSCME Local 2334 (White Haven), as well as by other unions including SEIU. AFSCME Council 13 strongly opposes the decision to close these facilities.

“While we are waiting to learn more details about how exactly this move would affect the employees of Polk and White Haven, we do not agree with this decision and will do everything in our power to fight it and assist the workers in any way possible,” AFSCME Council 13 Executive Director David Fillman said.

Council 13 represents 626 employees at Polk and 337 employees at White Haven. The work they do maintains a high level of quality and positively impacts the lives of the residents every single day.

Upon learning of the news, Polk and White Haven workers felt blindsided, saddened and deeply concerned about the well-being of their residents.

“I think they could have handled this a lot differently. We should have all been involved in this. Families should have been involved. A lot of the individuals we have here have lived their entire lives here. They don’t know anything other than Polk Center. That’s going to be detrimental to them,” AFSCME Local 1050 (Polk Center) President Tammy Luce said.

President of AFSCME Local 2334 (White Haven) Bill Hill expressed disappointment with how DHS Secretary Teresa Miller framed the closure of these facilities and the assertion that “community-based settings honor the inherent value of every person and empower individuals to choose the direction of their own lives.”

“I don’t believe a lot of the residents would survive the change into a so-called ‘community-based setting.’ A lot of them are very fragile. If not for them being in the state facility, they wouldn’t have the fulfilling lives that they do. They are better served living in the facility. And I’m tired of everybody saying put them in the community when we are a part of the community already,” Hill said.  

Miller did acknowledge that “thousands of Pennsylvanians with intellectual disabilities lived some or all their lives in Polk and White Haven state centers,” which Hill attested to.

“You got individuals there since they were babies. They don’t know anything else,” he said.

From the way the decision was made, to how it was announced, to the unknown effects it will have on the residents and employees of these centers, it is clear that this is the wrong choice for everyone involved.

“The commonwealth was very deceitful in their actions. I hope the representatives and the governor will rethink this,” Hill said.

Council 13 will continue to monitor this situation closely and work toward a better resolution.