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Federal Lawsuit to be Filed to Keep White Haven Center Open

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The fight to save a state center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities continues. People whose loved ones depend o...

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The fight to save a state center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities continues.

People whose loved ones depend on White Haven Center in Luzerne County and Polk Center in northwest Pennsylvania are taking legal action against Governor Tom Wolf.

Family members and guardians of people who live in those centers are representing them in a class-action federal lawsuit saying the state is violating their civil rights by closing their home.

“The coalition wants to take away the right of choice from us, and that is not right. We all should respect induvial choice," said Thomas Kashatus.

The centers are state-run care facilities that house more than 300 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

“Essentially, we are dealing with the most venerable of the venerable. There is a reason they are among the few hundred still remaining in Pennsylvania's developmental centers. It's because they are the most difficult to move. They are the most difficult to accommodate with the services and the attention that they need," said Thomas York, an attorney representing residents.

The lawsuit lists 16 plaintiffs who are residents of either White Haven Center or Polk Center and are being represented by their guardians against nine defendants, including Gov. Wolf and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Teresa Miller.

“I am so deeply grateful for their courage and compassion and their understanding of our needs for our loved ones," said plaintiff Susan Jennings.

The state wants to move away from institutionalized care and says the quality of life for individuals would be better in the community, but the families behind this lawsuit say for their loved ones, that is not an option.

“That's our challenge. That's what we're fighting. Do we have a chance? With these people behind us today, I think with have a great chance with the efforts of Tom York," Kashatus said.

Thomas York, the lawyer for the families, tells us it could be two months before the state answers back.

“This politically correct goal by the Commonwealth is without regard to the needs, desires, health, and safety and wellbeing of the individuals residing at Polk and White Haven who will suffer very real harm as a result of this," York said.

York tells Newswatch 16 he was the lawyer on two similar cases where he was successful in keeping state centers open, one in Arkansas and the other in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

“I'm looking forward to another successful outcome. It is a violation of Olmstead, the Supreme Court decision of Olmstead to eliminate institutional care," Jennings said.

This lawsuit comes as state lawmakers work on a bill to keep White Haven and Polk Centers open while studies are done to see if closing them is the right decision.

“We've been trying to pursue every avenue possible to preserve choice for the families and residents of White Haven Center and Polk and the state centers," said State Representative Tarah Toohil, (R) Luzerne County.

“We can get down and dirty, too. And now we have attorney Tom York here, and he is going to prove that we are not only morally right. We're legally right," State Representative Gerald Mullery, (D) Luzerne County told the crowd.