Life is about to get even more difficult for 50-year-old John Cosentino, who has been living at the Brooklyn Developmental Center (BDC) for over 35 years, according to his parents, Bensonhurst residents Anthony and Mary Ann Cosentino.
A move announced last September by the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to shut down four large “lockdown” housing facilities for the developmentally disabled, BDC included, has the Cosentinos scrambling for another home for John, even though the state-run facility – one of the only facilities of its kind — is already considered by many to be a “last resort.”
John, diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three, requires constant supervision and first came to BDC at age 14 with acute behavioral problems including aggression, pica (the eating of inedible items) and self-injury. BDC’s 24-hour patient-care and college campus-sized site, his parents said, was perfect for him.
“Many residents like John have severe behavioral problems through no fault of their own,” his father told this paper, adding that BDC, established in 1973 to replace the infamous Willowbrook, was the only facility willing to accept John, also blind in his left eye. “He’s used to a routine and he’s used to the same staff. Many of them have been with him for over 20 years.”
Now, thanks to the initiative by Governor Andrew Cuomo to shut down larger Willowbrook-esque centers for the developmentally disabled. BDC – located at 888 Fountain Avenue in East New York – is slated to close by December 31, 2015, joining centers in Schenectady, Binghamton and Queens on the hit-list.
John’s father fears the closure of his son’s safe haven is closer than it appears.
“We have to decide by September 30 of this year to have John receive services from a private agency which will take over John’s care in his residential unit at BDC,” explained Cosentino of a “gutting” he stressed will also affect 600 employees. “This would mean that on October 1, John will be in the care of a new and unfamiliar staff, including direct staff care, program teachers, limited nursing and no physician on duty during the day.”
If his parents agree, Cosentino said, John will remain in his long term residential wing at BDC until transferred to a group home in the community but, on October 1, all BDC staff assigned to John’s unit will be transferred to another building.
“If we decline, John will be moved to a different residential building on the BDC campus,” he continued, hopeful that, if they say no, their son will be cared for by some of his regular caregivers. “John dislikes any change in his environment so moving him to another building on the BDC campus will be difficult. Either decision has drawbacks.
“The state is doing everything in its power to accelerate the closing of BDC when it needs to do the opposite,” he continued. “Are John and fellow residents second class citizens?”
Eventually, Cosentino said, residents like John will transition to what Cosentino called “poorly staffed” group homes – a type of residence that he fears will not benefit patients like his son, accustomed to large-scale facilities that provide 24/7 personal and medical care.
“The idea that all residents regardless of their disabilities could live in small group homes is flawed and ill conceived,” he said. “One size does not fit all.”
Some elected officials backed Cosentino’s efforts to save the center. Earlier this year, state legislators were close to passing The Freeze Unsafe Closures Act – a bill that would have kept BDC and the other facilities open until 2017, giving families more time to weigh their options and find the right fit. The act was passed by the State Senate and expected to be approved by the Assembly until, Cosentino said, the governor threatened to veto it.
Now, with the clock ticking even louder, the Cosentino family is hoping its petition on Change.org will sway higher-ups to reconsider keeping BDC open.
“BDC is their last resort,” said Cosentino, “and this is ours.”