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More group homes should be long-term goal for N.J., says DHS commissioner


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Jennifer Velez, commissioner of the state Department of Human Services, has been very clear: New Jersey's long-term goal is to relocate many of the nearly 2,000 citizens with developmental disabilities out of institutions and into group homes in the community.

"(Group homes) are going to be a growth area for New Jersey and it should be," Velez said during a visit to a group home in Farmingdale earlier this week.

Velez said individuals with developmental disabilities should be able to live in "homes in neighborhoods that look like homes in every other neighborhood."

DHS currently funds and oversees the new group homes as well as the state's seven developmental centers, two of which are slated to close this year.

Velez's vision is creating growth opportunities for both nonprofits such as Arc and for-profit agencies such as Benchmark Human Services, which runs the home Velez visited, to fill the need.

By mid-year, Benchmark said it will operate 13 group homes in New Jersey, serving 57 individuals with behavioral and medical needs who require a high level of round-the-clock care.

And while New Jersey is seeing increased interest by both nonprofit and for profit group home developers, Velez said both must meet the same stringent state licensing and quality regulations.

"We examine every agency, for profit or nonprofit, on its merits," she said. "Because they have to have the quality staff, the licensed and credentialed staff, and provide a quality home environment for people who have every right to be in the community. So I would welcome the business models that can meet our expectations."

According to DHS, there more than 280 providers working with the agency's Division of Developmental Disabilities to provide a variety of community services and supports. Of that number, 122 are new to the DDD service system.

Diana Kennedy, the state director for New Jersey for Benchmark, said two of the residents of the Farmingdale group home are 54-year-old twins, Pamela and Donna Barry, who have cerebral palsy.

She said residents of Benchmark group homes include people whose medical conditions require a feeding tube or oxygen or who have autism or other developmental diagnoses.

She said New Jersey provides funding to purchase and operate group homes, which she said are less costly to the state than institutional care.

According to Dawn Apgar, deputy commissioner of DHS, it costs the state about $160,000 per person per year for a group home resident, compared to about $300,000 in an institution. She said the state plans to move more than 200 residents out of developmental centers by the end of this fiscal year, June 30, and another 150 next year.

The state plans to close the North Jersey Developmental Center by June 30, and the Woodbridge Developmental Center by the end of this year.

Donna and Pamela Barry moved to the Farmingdale group home last November from Woodbridge. Their father, Carl Barry, said the family celebrated Thanksgiving in the new group home.

"We wanted them to experience community living and have a chance to get out of an institution," Barry said.

His daughters go to a day program run by the LADISON network that provides activities and stimulation.

"They can go to the boardwalk and see the ocean," he said.


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Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.



Sheri said:
Governor Christie is on a mission to cut expenditures by any means possible which entails increasing group homes for the disabled at the expense of closing developmental centers which are lifelong homes for the profoundly disabled.

Many of the residents at developmental centers are severely mentally disabled with little to no cognitive abilities combined with speech, vision and many other developmental complications and they are our most vulnerable citizens. They are HUMAN BEINGS with individual and varying needs and this issue should not be treated with a one-size-fits all solution. Sure there are some higher functioning disabled individuals that may be able to thrive well at home or in community Group Homes but to strip away the life-long home of many of the severely disabled individuals who heavily rely on the around the clock personal care, safety and medical staff that they are provided at developmental centers would be morally corrupt.

Christie’s plan, based on recommendations from a biased taskforce that he hand selected, did NOT include key stakeholders such as parents/guardians. His plan entails transferring clients from developmental centers to community housing or to a remote developmental center far out of reach of the disabled clients’ families and is dismissive of their input.

Group homes for the disabled is riddled with risks and problems for those with severe mental and physical disabilities, including higher rates of mortality and a greater risk of being abused in the general community. Those living in group homes waive their rights, under the Community Care Waiver. Under the State’s game of smoke and mirrors would have the public to believe that group homes would provide the same or better level of protections afforded to those thriving in home-like developmental centers, who receive FEDERALLY MANDATED levels of care.

Christie claims “de-institutionalization” is a “mandate” of the “Olmstead” Supreme Court decision when in reality nowhere in the Olmstead decision does it say that all people with disabilities must be transferred to the community.

March 14, 2014 7:42 am

Sarah said:
Clarification -
"She said New Jersey provides funding to purchase and operate group homes, which she said are less costly to the state than institutional care." - NJ does NOT provide funding to PURCHASE group homes, only operating funds. I am an Operations Director for a non-profit provider and know this to be factual.

March 13, 2014 8:41 am

TamieVOR said:
The Commissioner's assurances that the Department examines "every agency, for profit or nonprofit, on its merits" is curious in light of a new Rutgers Study which found that chronic lack of oversight by the Department's Division on Developmental Disabilities has resulted in "taxpayer dollars not being spent efficiently and providers may not be delivering all services as required by the operative contact." These failures, Rutgers found, have "resulted in both inefficient expenditures and poor information about the quality of services being provided." We frequently hear that group homes cost so much less than developmental center care, but at what cost? If services are reduced or eliminated, money wasted, costs shifted and people harmed, are we really saving? You can read the Rutgers study at

March 12, 2014 5:03 pm

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