Forcible Closure of Western Center in 2000, Police Blockade, Heartbroken Parents,  Upset 18 year old Western Center Patient Handcuffed

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"Gov. Ridge has no heart. But he has managed to break the hearts of Western Center parents."

What Happened to Western Center?

WESTERN CENTER, near Cannonsburg, Washington County, served over 1,700 citizens with autism and/or ID since 1962. There was a Model Group home on the campus grounds where those with mild or moderate disabilities were taught to go shopping and make beds with the staff members who would move with them into community placements. 400 such residents did transistion to community placements.


Other residents were too severely disabled to move into the community and remained as permanent residents on campus.  Western Center afforded a high quality of life for its residents which included a campus Greenhouse where landscaping and plant care skills were taught, garden plots with flowers and plants outside each unit, private rooms, a Ceramics program complete with kilns, an Arts and Crafts Program, and a Dietary Program where residents provided assistance to more severely impaired peers.  Residents could participate in plays and a Boy Scout troop.  Western Center maintained a close relationship with the adult basic educational services of Intermediate Unit #1 who provided residents with music lessons.


Western Center had swimming pools, a gymnasium, a hair dresser, a barber, and a "Hub" recreation center and canteen.  Western Center also offered Day Programs.

The Washington County Redevelopment Authority

In 1986, the Washington County Redevelopment Authority acquired land around Western Center to develop Southpointe, a residential and business park with close proximity to Pittsburgh.


In 1989, the Disabilities Law Project (DLP) filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of all Western Center residents, Richard C. v. Feather Houstoun, Secretary, Department of Public Welfare, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et. al. alleging that conditions were substandard at Western Center and that Western Center residents were capable of living in less restrictive community settings.


In 1992, DPW and DLP entered into a Settlement Agreement (CA 892038) to mandate individualized determinations for each class member as to whether community placement was appropriate. PP&A, DLP and county mental programs determined that all class members were appropriate for community placement.


In 1998, 38 family members filed guardianship petitions in Washington County to protect their intellectually disabled relatives from DPW's actions to forcibly discharge them from Western Center.  DPL filed suit against the judge who granted guardianship to the Western Center members which was later dismissed on appeal.


In January 1998, DPW announced that the state was closing Western Center.  131 residents with  severe disabilities,  and extensive medical, habilitative and mental health needs were still there at the time.

 

In 1999, the Auditor General of Pennsylvania found that incidents of abuse were significantly higher in group homes than Western Center.  These preliminary findings prompted the Auditor General Robert Casey (now Senator Casey) to proceed with a Performance Audit regarding the quality of care provided by taxpayer funded community group homes.


On January 31, 2000, DPW attempted to move two severely disabled residents from Western Center.  Their family members and guardians staged a protest, wrapping their arms around the family members to stop the discharges.  With the media looking on, DPW canceled the plans for their removal.

Many in the parents' group call the closing of Western Center a "land grab."

The 304-acre tract of prime residential property adjoins Southpointe.

See What People Are Saying

"It is one of the most reprehensible actions I have ever seen in America," said Daniel A. Torisky, President of the Board of Trustees at Western Center

Quick, Haul 'em out before Casey's Audit is released

State closing home for mentally retarded amid continued appeals, protests


On April 11, 2000, family and guardians at Western Center received letters that their relatives were being transferred to other facilities the very next day.


On April 11 and 12, 2000 there were twenty to thirty police blocking family members access to their relatives while transfers were being made.


On 18 year old resident ran out of a building to her sister standing behind the blockade.  She was severely agitated about being moved and scuffled with a police officer.  She was pushed against a police car, handcuffed and placed in custody.  She was denied permission to visit with her sister.

The residents were abruptly transferred without any transition, cut completely off from any family support.  They were placed in vans and driven off the grounds.


The very next day, April 13, 2000 Auditor General's final report on his investigation of community group housing revealed a long list of abuse, neglect, uninvestigated deaths and policy deficiencies in hiring, management and monitoring of the group homes.

See A Performance Audit of the Commonwealth's Oversight of the Community Group Homes for the Mentally Retarded in Western Pennsylvania

Fate of the Western Center Residents after transfer to the Community

There are 21 documented deaths of Western Center residents transferred to community group homes from 1992 to 2000.  The residents who died ranged in age from 28 to 51 years of age.  For many the cause was unknown and no autopsies were performed.  One person drowned in the bathtub while group home staff watched tv, another fell unattended down a stairway and died after 2 years in a coma, some had cardiac arrests after significant weight gain from medication, and another died only 2 weeks after outplacement from Western Center from an alleged seizure.


Jack Cavallo died from pneumonia brought about by a battering from group home staff which left him with a bruised body and a broken collarbone.  He was only 46 years old.


Western Center was sold for $2 million dollars for the Southpointe development.

See What People Are Saying

The Western Center Death List