The closely-supervised world of nearly 500 residents at the Conway Human Development Center could soon be turned upside-down as the Department of Justice took to trial Wednesday its lawsuit against the state over state-run residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities.
While the Department of Justice says state-run facilities like CHDC are dangerous and violate civil rights, the parents and guardians of residents strongly disagree.
Larry Taylor, whose sister, Cornelia, has lived at CHDC for several years, believes Arkansas is fortunate to have licensed, state-run residential facilities.
"My support is based on first-hand experience," Taylor said. "I am so pleased with all the services she receives, particularly the medical care."
Taylor said his parents "did everything they could to keep Cornelia at home and in the community," even starting a school for developmentally-disabled children.
"Cornelia needed more treatment than what was available in the community," Taylor said. "There was no day school in Little Rock that had the interdisciplinary team that she needed."
Taylor said most residents at CHDC suffer from severe or profound mental disabilities and chronic medical conditions, such as seizure disorders, autism, cerebral palsy and visual and hearing impairment.
"Many of the residents need help in every aspect of their life, from walking to bathing to dressing to eating to communication," Taylor said. "They need round-the-clock supervision."
The Department of Justice attorneys argue that CHDC residents are more likely to die there than ever return to the community.
Taylor, president of Families and Friends of Care Facility Residents, said many parents and guardians "hope their loved ones will be able to transition into the community, and many do and it’s a happy day. But many don’t."
According to Taylor, improved medical care and centers are allowing residents to live longer.
Not only do residents receive medical care and supervision at the state-run facilities, but are also able to socialize and interact with peers and staff, Taylor said. Residents have the chance to go on field trips or to restaurants with close supervision. Opportunities, Taylor said, that would not be possible if the residents were living in nursing homes.
Taylor said his organization opposes the Department of Justice lawsuit and believes they have the right to choose where their family members are cared for.
"This litigation goes on against our wishes and without support," Taylor said. "We are fortunate to have a governor who believes that our parents and guardians deserve the right to choose."
"For years, the families, caregivers and other members of the Conway Human Development Center community have fought to keep the Center a viable option for the intensive, round-the-clock care its residents require," Governor’s spokesman Matt DeCample said in a statement. "That effort now gets its day in court, and the State of Arkansas will vigorously defend CHDC throughout these proceedings."
Department of Human Services Spokesperson Julie Munsell said DHS was grateful for the support of families, parents and guardians.
"For the Department of Human Services, particularly the Conway Human Development Center, we are relieved to finally have our day in court. This has been an ongoing struggle with the Department of Justice since 2004, so it’s been six years in the making," Munsell said. "We are very grateful for the support of the families and parents, because we feel as though they have the most intimate vantage point of how the center runs every day. They are there throughout the week and see how it operates. To have their vote of confidence is very important to us. We have responsible, caring individuals out there caring for those who really need it."
Representatives from the Disability Rights Center, an organization that has previously opposed state-run facilities, did not return calls for comment.
Taylor said parents and guardians of residents in the residential facilities have one focus.
"We have one constant desire — that with continued support, our loved ones with disabilities, by no fault of their own, will be able to receive the care they deserve."