Oft-criticized state home to move residents

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Nearly half of the mentally disabled residents of a state home in Austin will be moved over the next year following a critical state report that urged the home’s closure.

Officials with the Austin State Supported Living Center say at least 120 of the 274 residents will be moved into smaller community and nursing homes by June 2015. Some may be sent to other state institutions.

Texas officials want to close six of the 13 state living centers, including the one in Austin, by 2022. The centers provide 24-hour care for people with mental and developmental disabilities.

Staffers for the Sunset Commission, a state panel that suggests ways to improve Texas agencies, recently recommended that the six living centers close. Their report found the centers struggle to provide quality care, are expensive to maintain and are largely empty as more residents are moved into community settings. The Austin center also has been beset by federal violations concerning medical care and treatment services.

But supporters of the Austin center are fighting its closure, saying their loved ones receive top-notch care.

Linda Benskin, whose brother lives at the center, says there aren’t enough options for community facilities that house those with more severe disabilities.

“My brother has been turned down by countless private facilities,” Benskin told the Austin newspaper. “Where will he go?”

Guardians were told of the decision to move the residents in a letter last week from Scott Schalchlin, assistant commissioner for Aging and Disability Services.

“We don’t make this decision lightly, but we strongly believe that getting the facility to a more manageable size is in the long-term best interest of our staff and, more importantly, the individuals we serve,” he wrote.

The Austin center stopped accepting new residents in March 2012, and since that time the population has dropped from 344 to 274.

But the center has met just 20 percent of federal mandates, and since 2009 Medicaid regulators have threatened to cut funding more than 30 times for violating standards. The center employs about 1,200 people.

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