|Last week in Oregon we reached an important milestone -- more than 100 years of institutionalizing people with disabilities came to an end. Eastern Oregon Training Center (EOTC) in Pendleton shut its doors on October 31. After the closing of Fairview in 2000 and now EOTC, Oregon is one of only a handful of states with no institutions -- public or private -- for people with developmental disabilities. We are the only state that does not place any of its clients in an out-of-state institution.
Staffers help the last resident to leave EOTC go up the steps onto a van
This milestone shows how far we have come as a society in how we treat our neighbors and family members with developmental disabilities. It used to be falsely believed that they could not function in the community. Now we know better -- that people with even severe disabilities can thrive in small settings such as adult foster care or group homes as long as they have the right support.
Of course, closing EOTC meant great change for both residents and staff. Leading up to the closure date, groundwork was laid by EOTC staff to ensure the happiness, safety and well-being of the remaining clients. Most of the 25 clients had lived in the facility for 20 years or so. Armed with a set of priorities that included the clients' preferences, proximity to family and appropriateness of the new setting and care provider, EOTC staff found community placements.
And to show how dedicated the EOTC staff is to these clients, five clients were placed in foster homes established by former staff members. Two of the last clients to leave, Don and Danny, went to live in a home shared by Sandi Cochran, who provided care to EOTC clients for more than 15 years, and her co-worker Sandra Doherty, EOTC's former cook. According to Sandi, "We let it be known even before we were licensed that we planned to take Don and Danny. We are close to their families and it just made sense."
In order to meet that goal, Sandi and Sandra had to become licensed as a foster care provider. They had to remodel portions of Sandi's house to meet codes for adult foster homes for people with developmental disabilities. They also pursued necessary training and passed tests and inspections.
On October 6, Don and Danny moved in. Don is 82 and had been institutionalized since he was 17. Danny is 53 and has been in state care since a very young age.
By all reports, they and the other former EOTC residents are doing well, and, as Bill Morris, the former president of SEIU 503 Local 391, said recently, staff can feel good that they did their job well.
"It isn't just that EOTC was closing, but that it had accomplished its mission, which has always been to help people to live their lives in the community," he said.
As we celebrate this milestone, I want to extend my sincerest thanks to each and every one of the EOTC staff for their dedication and service to some of Oregon's most vulnerable citizens. Each and every one of them played a part in making this transition as smooth as possible, especially for the clients in their care. They remained tremendously focused on the needs of the people they served in spite of the uncertainties the change brought to their own lives. The manner in which they handled this closure is a testament to their devotion and commitment to the clients I know many of them refer to as friends.