Regional Center angst should be laid to rest

To the frustration of many, the fate of the Grand Junction Regional Center has been tied up in a bureaucratic knot for a year as the state Department of Human Services has pondered how to best comply with a legislative directive to vacate the 100-year-old campus that houses two dozen developmentally disabled clients in intermediate care facilities.

Finally, a plan with input from stakeholders is taking shape and it puts to rest any suggestion that the work of the Regional Center be turned over to a community provider, such as Strive, which would have eliminated state jobs. Moreover, it preserves most of the existing functions of the campus by moving them to new locations in the Grand Valley.

Reggie Bicha, DHS executive director, will present a plan based on recommendations of an advisory group to the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee later this month. It provides the details the Capital Development Committee found lacking last year when it didn’t recommend funding on a $12 million request to build four new group homes to house the campus residents.

Bicha will request $1.8 million from the JBC to facilitate the first steps to move Regional Office staff off campus and begin designing the new group homes.“This is consistent with exactly what the advisory group recommended,” Bicha told the Sentinel’s editorial board Thursday. “The law is settled. We have to be off the campus and this is a cost-effective, sustainable way to do it.”

The advisory panel would actually prefer six four-bedroom homes — as opposed to four six-bedroom homes ­— arguing that smaller homes will result in better outcomes for the residents.

Either way, with the JBC’s blessing, the plan keeps a Regional Center on the Western Slope, maintains capacity for residents, preserves jobs, integrates the developmentally and intellectually disabled into the community and saves money. A department analysis suggests this proposal will save the state $10 million over five years and $3 million every year after that.

Aside from the financial implications, one of the best outcomes of this proposal, in our estimation, is that it ends the segregation of people with developmental intellectual disabilities. Grand Junction’s Regional Center was caught in a time warp, reinforcing outmoded views of how to deal with people with special needs. Instead of being housed in an industrial zone and hidden from sight, residents will occupy group homes to be dispersed in neighborhoods throughout the community.

“We know that people with developmental disabilities do very well in community settings,” Bicha said. The move brings Grand Junction more in line with how the rest of the state provides services to a special population.

The Legislature’s debate about what to do with the campus generated angst and DHS didn’t help by sowing confusion. But with the help of stakeholders a solid proposal emerged and we encourage the JBC to consider its benefits. It provides budgetary relief and improves the care of the state’s most vulnerable charges.


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