Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

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Parents And Advocates Applaud Major Step In 26-Year Journey That Started With The Closure Of Willowbrook In 1987

NYS Office for People With Developmental Disabilities Announces Closure of Institutions

Albany, NY—Providing opportunities for supports and services in the most integrated setting possible is a top priority of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Olmstead implementation efforts, and a core component of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities’ (OPWDD’s) mission, vision and values.

Today, we continue the ongoing move to supporting individuals with developmental disabilities in the community as we announce plans to close four institutional campuses over the next four years:

  • The Oswald D. Heck Developmental Center in Schenectady is slated to close by March 31, 2015;
  • The Brooklyn Developmental Center in Brooklyn is slated to close by December 31, 2015;
  • The Broome Developmental Center in Binghamton is slated to close by March 31, 2016; and
  • The Bernard M. Fineson Developmental Center in Queens is slated to close by March 31, 2017.


On September 17, 1987, Willowbrook was declared “officially and forever closed,” signaling the beginning of a movement toward deinstitutionalization that we celebrate with today’s announcement. In the years since Willowbrook’s permanent closure, OPWDD has successfully closed 14 institutional settings, and has gone from close to 27,000 people living in 20 institutions to fewer than 1,000 people living in just a handful of institutional settings today.

Our stakeholders and advocates look forward to the day when institutions are a part of New York State’s history. To date, at least 13 other states have no institutions, and another 10 have only one institution each. New York is proud to move one step closer to joining their ranks.

Today’s announcement is in line with OPWDD’s long-standing commitment to downsizing and closing institutions to achieve full community integration for all of the people we serve. These closures are consistent with Governor Cuomo’s Olmstead implementation efforts in fulfillment of the federal mandate under the US Supreme Court’s Olmstead v. L.C. decision that individuals with developmental disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting. These closures are also consistent with OPWDD’s transformation agenda, a reform initiative designed to accomplish our goal of helping people with developmental disabilities live richer lives.

There are no layoffs associated with this closure plan. Staff working in campus settings slated to close will be offered opportunities for reassignment in state-operated programs. OPWDD, as it has done in the past, will work with our union partners to ensure that our skilled and experienced workforce can take advantage of training opportunities to prepare for new roles. OPWDD will also work with the Civil Service Career Mobility Office to assist employees who wish to pursue job opportunities in other state agencies.

Ann Nehrbauer, a parent whose son once resided at Willowbrook said, “I thank God for the hearts and minds of people in New York State government who continue to realize that our brothers and sisters still existing in institutions have no future there, and will be moved into a suitable community setting where they will have opportunities to grow and benefit by a quality of life deserving their human nature. It is their right to life and the right thing to do. I know because our Stephen, and so many others I personally know of nearly 40 years since Willowbrook closed, have lived in homes similar to ours and have blossomed as individuals, good citizens, and good neighbors.”

Self-Advocacy Association of New York State (SANYS) board president Cathy Loquercio said, " The Board of SANYS, on behalf of our many thousands of members and supporters, wishes to express our appreciation and support for Governor Cuomo's decision. No one should live in an institution. As people with developmental and other disabilities, we believe that we should live in our community, in our own home or a small home or apartment with the people we chose to live with, among our friends and neighbors, and with the supports we need to be contributing citizens."

Ann Hardiman, executive director of the New York State Association of Community and Residential Agencies said, "Affording people the opportunity to live in communities of their choice is the most important way to serve and support an individual with developmental disabilities and their family. Living in the community and being included are key to the success of the health and well-being of people with disabilities and we are grateful to Governor Cuomo for his commitment to ensuring that people with developmental disabilities live in the most integrated setting possible."

NYSARC, Inc. Executive Director Marc Brandt said, “The plan to close New York State’s Developmental Centers symbolizes another big step towards bringing to fruition the long-standing ideals of parents and families. These ideals are embodied in court decisions such as Olmstead, and recognize the imperative for creating a fully inclusive society where people with developmental disabilities live as full citizens alongside all members of their communities. NYSARC applauds this important initiative.”

About the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities

The New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities is responsible for coordinating services for more than 126,000 New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and other disabilities. It provides services directly and through a network of approximately 700 nonprofit service providing agencies, with about 80 percent of services provided by the private nonprofits and 20 percent provided by state-run services.