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Group homes set to receive Western Center residents

Wednesday, April 12, 2000

By Gary Rotstein, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Officials of Allegheny Valley School and McGuire Memorial said yesterday they were ready to welcome residents leaving Western Center into group homes in which severely retarded individuals live under supervised care, four to a home.

It is the same arrangement made for other recent transfers from the state institution.

Allegheny Valley has purchased five homes since October, in Robinson, Moon and Brighton, for 20 of the remaining Western Center residents, said Regis G. Champ, the agency's executive director. Twelve can move immediately into three of the homes. Eight others will have temporary living quarters at Allegheny Valley's 184-bed campus in Robinson for several months while modifications to their two homes are completed.

Allegheny Valley will house one other transferred individual permanently in its Robinson center, Champ said, because that person's care needs are more extensive.

McGuire, a residential provider in Beaver County managed by the Felician Sisters religious order, is taking four individuals from Western Center into a newly acquired group home with four beds. Sister Mary Thaddeus, executive director of McGuire, declined to identify what community the home is in, although she said the order's five similar group homes have been well-received by their neighbors.

State Department of Public Welfare spokesman Jay Pagni said the new McGuire home is in Chippewa.

At least three of the individuals slated for transfer to the Allegheny Valley and McGuire homes will stay in Western Center for the time being because of lawsuits seeking to stop the transfers, Pagni said.

Allegheny Valley operates about 80 other group homes for retarded people and is the largest such provider in Pennsylvania. It also operates large residential facilities in Pittsburgh's Fairywood section, Philadelphia and Hummelstown, Dauphin County, in addition to the Robinson campus, but the state sought to avoid moving Western Center residents permanently from one institution into other large-scale residences.

Champ said Allegheny Valley already has accepted about 30 Western Center residents into its group homes in the past two years and envisions no problem handling the new influx.

Allegheny Valley typically buys large ranch homes where the residents, many of them in wheelchairs, can be grouped in bedrooms on one floor. It tries to avoid modifying the exterior in any way that makes them stand out as group homes but installs sprinkler systems and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

It hires a live-in administrator for every group home and that individual usually has a spouse and children living there, rent-free. At least one other staff person providing personal assistance is present on every eight-hour shift, Champ said, and it's usually two or more, depending on the individuals' needs.

He said the state funnels about $350 per individual per day in Medicaid funding to Allegheny Valley to cover the cost of care.

During the day, group home residents typically are transported to the agency's Edward Zapp Center in Robinson for either adult day care services or a sheltered workshop program where they perform paid, piecemeal work requiring low-level skills. Nurses and doctors visit the center daily and nurses also make regular trips to the group homes, Champ said.

He said he's confident the residents will make the adjustment to new surroundings, based on the experiences of those previously transferred out of Western Center. He's more concerned about their parents, many of whom he knows and respects despite their fierce opposition to the transfers.

"I really feel for the parents and I know what they're going through," Champ said. "I can understand how they're being torn apart. ... I hope they understand we're here to serve them and we've stayed out of their fight with the state."

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