Controversy over possible closure of White Haven Center, other facilities

The facilities take care of people with intellectual disabilities.

FOSTER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)- A controversy is unfolding across Pennsylvania over the possible closure of facilities that take care of people with intellectual disabilities.

If the legislation is successful, it would impact thousands of patients and their families and thousands of jobs would be lost statewide.

People who have loved ones in those centers say, for them, this is a matter of life and death. They insist they will not let this happen without a fight.

"As far as the impact on her leaving her, we think that she would die in a few years," says Tom Kashatus, whose daughter is a patient at White Haven Center.

Kashatus fears for the life of his 48-year-old daughter Maria. She has been a resident of the state run center for 25 years. She has intellectual disabilities and cannot live on her own, but she and more than one hundred other patients may have to be moved to a private, non-profit community based center.

"My wife and I are terrified of her going somewhere else," says Kashatus. "We'd rather that here."

But that is exactly what could happen to Maria and the other residents at the White Haven Center is legislation in the state house is successful.

House Bill 1650 calls for the closings of five facilities, including White Haven. Supporters of the bill say it would place residents in a community setting, which they argue would improve care while at the same time save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are not convinced it would benefit anyone and vow to fight the plan.

"Locally the loss of 400 jobs and more and importantly the loss of the homes of 120 residents from the area," says Representative Gerald Mullery. "They would be placed in a community-based care, possibly locally, possibly not."

"When you think of government, what is government supposed to do?" says Representative Tarah Toohil. "Government is supposed to protect those people who cannot care for themselves."

Francine Carnegi is a therapist at the White Haven Center.

"I hear a lot of dears," says Carnegi. "People are discouraged about possibly losing their jobs. Also for individuals here having proper care they need."

The proposal is now in the health committee. Public hearings would also be held before it comes law.

Eyewitness News reached out to the prime sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Kerry Benninghoff of Centre County for comment, but calls were not returned.

A spokesperson for Governor Tom Wolf says the governor is reviewing the legislation and has not taken a position at this time.

The legislation would also impact the Selinsgrove State Center in Snyder County. According to state officials, 800 people are employed at that center, caring for about 200 residents.


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