State supported living center closure forces dozens out

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin State Supported Living Center (AuSSLC) is closing several homes on its campus, which will eventually impact more than 100 of its residents.

Stephen Wallace is a father of one of the residents and says the news is very disappointing.

“Justin is 33. He is autistic, severely autistic. Restaurants, doctors offices, dentist offices, have told us don’t come back.”

For 18 years Justin lived with his family. But he was a danger to himself and others.

“It was the hardest thing we ever had to do, but we had to, to save his life,” said Wallace.

They moved Justin into the Austin State Supported Living Center 12 years ago.

“He’s away from traffic, he’s away from fireworks, all the things that can set him off.”

But soon, Justin and dozens more won’t be calling the facility home anymore.

Families and guardians received a letter from the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) explaining the center’s decision to reduce the number of residents. The center’s administrator cites a long struggle to recruit and retain staff in Austin.

New admissions were halted in March of 2012, bringing the average number of residents from 344 to 274. The overall goal is to reduce the facility’s census to 150-160 residents.

The home closures are happening in two stages. The first stage will impact about 72 residents, with a target date of Dec. 1, 2014. The second stage will impact about 50 more residents, with a target day of June 2015.

“If he could be in the community, he’d be right here at my house,” Wallace said. “He can’t be in the community, because the community really doesn’t want him there. That’s what people don’t like to talk about.”

He wishes there had been a public hearing or discussion on the issue.

“Fact is the state has made a commitment to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” Wallace added. “Come up with more money if you have to.”

He says while there’s no perfect solution to the problem, there has to be one better than this.

Administrators say the decision didn’t come lightly, but believe getting the facility to a more manageable size is in the best interest of staff and residents. They said it has been difficult to find enough workers, meaning current employees racked up more than 187,000 hours of overtime so far this fiscal year. They say that equates to $2.5 million in overtime paid.

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