‘Last-resort place’ about to close

Tyler Brady gets a hug from his mother Connie Robbins-Brady at the Grand Junction Regional Center.

Biggest fear is for survival of clients who now live at skilled-nursing unit, one mother says

Tyler Brady, 25, has a lantern jaw that would make Jay Leno skulk off in shame and piercing blue eyes that would make Paul Newman hang his head low.

Tyler has at least five girlfriends, joked his mother, Connie Robbins-Brady, earning a thumbs-up and toothy grin from her son.

Tyler’s girlfriends are more than that, though.

They are his lifeline.

They’re the people who care for him in the 32-bed, skilled-nursing facility in the Grand Junction Regional Center. The skilled-nursing facility was targeted for closure by Gov. Bill Ritter, who announced the facility would be closed to reduce state jobs by 57, saving $2.8 million annually, part of a $320 million package of cuts. The remainder of the regional center at 2800 Riverside Parkway will remain open.

Tyler, who has a severe form of spina bifida, lived with his parents for most of his life, attended Grand Valley schools and graduated from Central High School. He’s also a member of the Methodist Church.

Four years ago, Tyler’s health turned sharply worse, and the Bradys turned to the Regional Center for its 24/7 care.

Not only is Tyler unable to feel anything below the armpits, but he’s also dependent on people to prepare foods in ways that he can consume it. He takes multiple medications and has a catheter.

“A side effect of his disability,” his mother said, “is that he won’t tell people what he needs. He needs someone who can anticipate his needs.”

The skilled-nursing facility at the regional center is uniquely, in Colorado, able to meet those needs, Robbins-Brady said.

“It’s a last-resort place,” she said.

As such, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replace the kind of treatment Tyler has received, she said.

“The staff is his family,” she said.

The Bradys aren’t alone in their worries.

Larry and Peggy Wagner said they fear this is the first move toward closing the center, where their 48-year-old son has lived for more than six years.

“The best six-and-a-half years of his life,” Peggy Wagner said. “The care there is wonderful.”

Their son, Randy, won’t be directly affected by the closure because he’s in a different unit of the Regional Center, but his parents said the effects would still be felt. Closing the
nursing center is the wrong approach, Larry Wagner said.

“I know the state’s budget is terrible,” he said, “but this is a bad move.”

Robbins-Brady is organizing a meeting of parents and guardians at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Whitman Building of the Museum of Western Colorado, Fourth Street and Ute Avenue.

“Our biggest fear is for the survival” of the clients who are housed in the skilled-nursing facility, Robbins-Brady said.

Too often, she said, clients who are so dependent are unable to adapt to new surroundings and to staff who are unfamiliar with the cues that alert them to the clients’ needs.

Officials with the Department of Human Services assured parents and guardians the process of finding new accommodations for the clients will be thorough and methodical.

One agency that will assist the state in finding new homes for those clients is Mesa Developmental Services.

Mesa Developmental Services Chief Executive Officer Jeff Nichols said his organization has accomplished similar transfers, including medically fragile people.

“We’ve done this successfully nearly 60 times,” Nichols said. “I can’t imagine a scenario” in which no suitable alternative location could be found.

Closing the facility is in keeping with more modern approaches to the handling of the developmentally disabled, Nichols said, though the February deadline “represents a huge increase in pace.”

Reducing the size of institutions and moving people out of them helps those clients be more a part of the mainstream of society.

“It can be done, it should be done,” Nichols said, “to get people into more integrated settings.”


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