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The Closure of Fernald is the Right Thing to Do

The Arc of Massachusetts, along with most disability rights organizations, strongly supports the State's proposal to close the Fernald State School. This page is designed for those interested in The Arc of Massachusetts and our position on the closure of institutions, such as Fernald, and other settings that segregate individuals with disabilities from mainstream society. The goal of inclusion requires change in many settings, as individuals with disabilities may still reside in restricted environments in the community. A group home or staffed apartment is not an automatic guarantee of inclusion.
    See our informational brochures
Latest news about Fernald 
Directory of online information and resources
Why The Arc supports closure
Why A National Conference of State Legislatures Report concludes maintaining Fernald is
    not sustainable

Who are we? 

The Arc of Massachusetts is recognized as a leading disability rights organization in the Commonwealth along with our parent organization, The Arc of the U.S. We were founded by parents over 50 years ago, and our Board of Directors is comprised primarily of family members. We have 20 regional chapters located throughout Massachusetts. See the NPR report on mental retardation and housing which includes The Arc. Click here to learn more about who we are.

What is mental retardation?

If you are interested in the public policy implications of closure but are unfamiliar with mental retardation, The Arc of the US provides several informative factsheets.

Language is revealing. We have taken a position on language that differs significantly from proponents of institutions.

Deinstitutionalization and why The Arc supports it:

  • Our position in favor of institutional closure predates the current debate around the Fernald state school by 20 years. In the 1980s, The Arc of the US supported national Medicaid Reform legislation, the Chafee-Florio Bill, led by a bi-partisan coalition of federal lawmakers. Instead of mandating immediate deinstitutionalization, this legislation would have gradually transformed the service system into the community over a 20-year period. Although Medicaid Reform didn’t pass Congress (filibuster supported by unions and groups representing families at institutions), the program was transformed with a “Home and Community Based Waiver” which now far exceeds the institutional population in size.
  • There is overwhelming agreement among the vast majority of advocates, families and the academic community nationwide that individuals with disabilities, including those with profound impairments, should not be segregated. The Arc and its sister organization, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (formerly the American Association on Mental Retardation) have issued a joint position paper regarding this important civil rights issue.
  • The Legislature proposed an outside section to the FY05 Budget that would create a Fernald Land Reuse Committee. The Arc has always advocated that the bulk of any revenues generated from the sale or transfer of surplus state school property should be used towards the development of housing and services for persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this plan will produce any revenue of value for persons with disabilities in the community. To learn about this and other items of importance related to the planned closure of Fernald which have been enacted into law through language included in the Massachusetts state budget, click here.

People are naturally afraid of change, but individuals residing within Massachusetts’ institutions have a regulatory and judicial civil right to receive equal and better services. We support these civil rights. A small percentage of families and union representatives should not have the right to direct the future of disability policy for the rest of the state that will have implications for the next 2 decades.

Status of the Six Remaining Massachusetts Facilities 

Since 1977, over 85% of facilities’ residents in Massachusetts have left for the community. 1,100 remain in six facilities with all the buildings, land, and many support staff needed for the existing large physical plant. At 155 years old, Fernald is the oldest publicly funded segregated facility for people with mental retardation in the Western Hemisphere; 182 people with varied degrees of disability and medical needs continue to reside there. The other state schools are: Templeton; Monson; Wrentham; Hogan; and Glavin. Massachusetts is the last New England state with multiple facility campuses, and may soon be the only New England state with any facilities.

The current status of the facilities is not sustainable, given the desperate need to address deferred maintenance and required upgrades for safety and environmental requirements. Major capital expenditures for deferred maintenance and required upgrades can be avoided, if all six facilities are closed.

Continuing to fund facilities at the expense of community services hurts two ways. Both facilities and community consumers are short-changed with weakened community services, as explained above. Equally important, expensive beds are maintained in an old service model into which no one has moved during the past 25 years. Younger families now recognize that facilities are the most restrictive services, isolated from the community, family and friends.

We urge anyone interested in learning more about this critical public policy issue to contact The Arc of Massachusetts or to browse the resources listed below for in-depth information.

Information and Resources on Fernald, Institutional Closure, and the RICCI Class

Statement of Support: The Transition to a Community Service System Should Not Be Impeded.
Signed by 84 human service organizations in agreement with The Arc's support of the closure of Fernald.

The Advantages of Full Closure for All Remaining Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation Facilities

The Arc supports the Patrick-Murray Administration's Closure Plan

Community Supports for Individuals with Disabilities Need More Funding
A report from The Arc of Massachusetts on the need for full funding of community services. Explains why budget dollars for DMR should favor community supports over facilities, and how additional funding could improve the lives of thousands of individuals with disabilities.

Enhancing Community-Based Services: Phase One of Massachusetts' Plan for the implementation of the
Olmstead decision*
Following the Olmstead decision, Massachusetts has shifted its focus from relying on facility-based care to developing community-based options for people with disabilities and elders. This document maps out how the state plans to implement the Olmstead decision and enhance community-based services in order to “assure that Massachusetts residents with long-term support needs have access to accessible, person-centered services and community options that maximize consumer choice, direction, and dignity.” Click here for the Appendices of the Plan.*

Meet Liz Glenn: A person making it in the Community 

"Living in the community is not without its share of risks, but with risk comes reward, self-fulfillment and life. Liz has thrived as a member of the rainbow of people comprised of different colors, sizes, and abilities that make up our community. Liz is the face of the community..."

RICCI Class Members: You can help support community services!
The Arc is asking Ricci class members now living in the community, or their family members, guardians, or service providers to show their support for community living. Click here to learn how...


* Viewing these documents requires Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to download this free software.