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Queens Chronicle

Fineson employees appeal to CB 13

State to close center in ’17; staff says workers, patients face harm

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Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu May 8, 2014.

Employees at the Bernard M. Fineson Developmental Center are seeking community support in their effort to avoid a state-scheduled closure in March 2017.

The Queens Village facility, located on the Creedmoor campus on Winchester Boulevard, houses about 135 adults afflicted with conditions ranging from mental retardation to autism.

It is run by the state’s Office of People with Developmental Disabilities. The state said Tuesday that the closure is part of the routine to streamline operations while moving patients from institutions to community-based settings.

But on Monday night, about a dozen state workers appealed to Community Board 13 for support to keep the eight-building facility open.

“We’ve been here for 29 years,” Elizabeth Cheese, a union official, told the board. “Some of these people have almost family-like relationships with their patients.”

Cheese said about 500 employees would be directly affected by the closure.

Halcyone Thomas, head of the site’s Parent Advocacy Group, is a former Queens resident who now lives in Brooklyn.

She said moving patients from comfortable, familiar settings has the potential to cause great disruption in their lives.

She also said any patients who must stay in an institutional setting face the risk of being sent to sites hours from their families in New York City.

“They can ship them all over the state,” she said.

Other workers, who believe the main goal is to save money, said the state could well get what it pays for by turning patients still in need of an institutional setting over to private firms which, they said, are not held to the same level of accountability for care or results as state workers.

Fineson was founded in Howard Beach in 1979 but moved to Winchester Bulevard five years ago. Frank Toner, president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association, said the facility has been a good neighbor.

“We’ve never had any problems,” he said. “There might be an occasional incident, but they always took care of it.”

In an email from the OPWDD, Jennifer O’Sullivan said Fineson will be the 20th such state facility shut down since 1987, and marks the last planned closure. She said they would keep two institutions open upstate — one in Tupperville, about 60 miles from the Canadian border, and one in Norwich, more than 30 miles northeast of Binghamton.

“OPWDD has, for many years, been actively engaged in downsizing and closing institutional capacity in order to assist as many as possible to live productive lives that are fully integrated with their communities,” O’Sullivan wrote.

She said that is not only the state’s longstanding policy, but a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Olmstead v. L.C.

She reiterated that patients and their families would receive assistance in matching patients with the communities and services most suited to their individual needs.

She also said the closure would be done without layoffs, with qualified Fineson staffers offered available jobs in other state-operated settings.

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