Council concerns Fircrest supporters

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:39am

For more than just the sake of appearance, Friends of Fircrest members and others are concerned with the makeup of Gov. Christine Gregoire’s newly appointed advisory council to assess care for developmentally disabled individuals.

The concern is about a lack of parent or guardian representatives appointed from any of the five state Residential Habilitation Centers (RHCs). Friends of Fircrest members advocate on behalf of residents at the school for the developmentally disabled.

“We were hoping that we would have somebody on there who represented someone living in an RHC,” said Maureen Durkan, a Friends of Fircrest member. “We didn’t get that.”

With the adoption of the state’s 2005-07 budget, Gregoire created the advisory council, comprised of members from 13 different organizations, to assess the needs of developmentally disabled state residents. The state operating budget includes a proviso to fund the study for $182,000.

Durkan, whose sister, Sharon, lives at Fircrest, said the Council is not well balanced. She said one man appointed to the Council, John Mahaney, of Yakima, has a developmentally disabled son who lives in the community and receives respite care at Yakima Valley School, a state-run RHC.

Although the governor’s staff has said that Mahaney would be representative of their needs, Durkan is worried because Mahaney’s son is not a permanent RHC resident.

“It still seems like the makeup of the Council is stacked against us,” Durkan said. “And historically what has happened over the last few years, we have to be kind of careful and watchful about what is going on.”

Kari Burrell, Gregoire’s executive policy advisor for developmentally disabled issues, said the budget proviso indicated that slots on the council would be reserved for specific interests, such as residents and employees of RHCs. Mahaney, whose son uses RHC services, will represent the RHC interest, she said.

“I am not sure what Friends of Fircrest members are thinking,” Burrell said. “They are represented.”

To determine who would be appointed, Burrell said organizations were contacted and asked to submit nominations. People who were nominated were then asked to follow-up with an application of interest. A list of applicants was provided to Gregoire.

Durkan is also worried that the Council’s timeframe is too ambitious and a comprehensive study will not be able to be completed by January. Many people are concerned that the study could be used to expedite the closure of state-run homes, she said.

Burrell said the budget proviso set the study deadline, which the Council will attempt to meet.

Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds, who was considered for appointment to the Council, also is concerned with the composition.

“There is no representation, in my view, of people who are firmly committed to the value of the RHCs and the right to choose where one lives,” Chase said.

Chase favors having the study done by a private contractor, such as the Policy Consensus Center, a joint effort of Washington State University and the University of Washington.

“If we had an outside study, we would have an appearance of fairness,” Chase said. “I think it would go a long way to building consensus.”

Burrell said the Policy Consensus Center may be considered as an option by the Council, as it discusses how to structure the work.

“The purpose of the Policy Consensus Center is to work on very difficult issues and bring people to consensus,” Burrell said. “The director of that program thinks this would be a project they might be able to lend some value to.”

The Council has not yet begun, Burrell said, with appointments just made on Sept. 19. Staff is now coordinating the first meeting, she said.

Friends of Fircrest members will closely monitor the Council to ensure members “approach things with an open mind,’” Durkan said.

“We are going to be keeping an eye on the study,” Durkan said.

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