Lawmakers tour Ebensburg Center, oppose closure

The Ebensburg Center, which takes care of hundreds of people who are disabled and need constant care, would be on the chopping block if HB 1650 were to pass (WJAC).

EBENSBURG — Families of people who live at the Ebensburg Center talked with lawmakers Friday, trying to persuade them to vote against any measure that would close the center.

The Ebensburg Center is one of five state facilities around the state that provide around the clock care for people with severe mental disabilities. Often, those people need constant care and cannot live at home.

In January, the Department of Human Services announced that the Hamburg Center would close, leaving just four open centers around the state.

In September, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff of Centre County proposed a bill that would start the process of closing the remaining state centers, including the Ebensburg Center, which employs more than 600 people and has more than 200 people living there full-time.

Susan Jennings, who runs the organization Keeping Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities Safe, or "The Kiids", said if the centers close, people who live there will have no place to go, including her son.

"He will languish in a psychiatric ward, he will languish in a jail, he will languish in the streets," Jennings said. "He can't be safely managed at home, and that is the reality of our situation."

Jennings son has autism, among other diagnoses. His next option, if the state center were to close, would be to live in a community group home.

Jennings said they've tried group homes, and that they've been like torture for her son.

"No one should suffer like that," she said. "No one."

Another family member, Mary Wills, was with legislators as they toured the Ebensburg Center Friday. She's the president of the Family Organization at Ebensburg State Center, and her sister-in-law lives there.

She said that without the center, the people who live there will not be able to get the care they need.

"That's not right for these individuals," she said. "We need to take care of our fragile people in our community."

Sen. Wayne Langerholc toured the center Friday and said he is not in favor of closing them.

"One of the core functions of government is to take care of those individuals and that's what the center does," he said.

Rep. Frank Burns, who had previously announced his support for the center, was also on the tour.

"This is what the families want, this is where the families live," he said. "This is their home."

Mickey Sgro, the regional director of the union that represents hundreds of the workers at the center, added that he will fight to keep it open.

"If they were to close this facility, it would be devastating to the economy of this area and devastating to Cambria County," he said.

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