What if you wanted to close a mental hospital but not all of its residents wanted to leave? That’s the issue faced in Massachusetts, after a controversy erupted in 2003 when then governor Mitt Romney announced plans to phase such care facilities out. The first slated to go was the Fernald Development Center.

Families and relatives of some Fernald residents protested the plans, saying the state was evicting profoundly retarded and severely disabled people from their homes.

US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan weighed in on the matter on Tuesday with a report recommending that the hospital remain open.

Sullivan recommended that Fernald remain open to provide services to the “most vulnerable” people in the Commonwealth and that residents be allowed to stay there if they choose. The report gave the state good grades for maintenance of its facilities for the mentally retarded and for its handling of recent transfers from Fernald.

The Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation seems to want to quickly close the facility down, because it sees the value in selling the 196-acre campus in Waltham and moving people to group homes or other long-term care facilities. But today, the hospital still houses 189 residents, many of whom have lived there all their lives.

In an effort to get the ball rolling the Department of Mental Retardation started sending out letters, telling guardians and parents to start making other plans for their loved ones.

The judge in the case, Judge Joseph L. Tauro, called the letters “attempts at intimidation,” and told officials from the Department of Mental Retardation to stop sending them. “Don’t tell anyone it’s going to close,” Tauro said.

Really, this should’ve been handled with a little more respect and care for the people who live there (and many who have lived there all of their lives). These are people’s lives we’re talking about, not cattle that need to be herded into some warehouse. That the DMR treats the matter as closed when there was an active U.S. Attorney investigation shows the lack of respect for the needs — both emotional and housing — for people in their care. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Source: Fernald’s future unclear despite US finding