And it was a good ruling. The institutions of the past were bad, and Coolidge's facility was no exception. But today, everything has changed except its reputation, which is the crux of the advocacy community's argument to shut it down.

Elliot Gory, a psychologist who has worked part time with clients at ATPC for 30 years, says trying to reconcile the current attitude toward institutions with the level of care ATPC clients receive is quite a dilemma.

"The clients at ATPC have lived their lives there. That's all they know," he says. "So here's the challenge: In America, the ethic is integration, and I certainly support that. But for these clients, that's all they've known."

State Representative Pete Rios
Courtesy of Pete Rios
State Representative Pete Rios
John Hinz has been a disability advocate since his daughter Megan was born with Down syndrome 30 years ago.
Jamie Peachey
John Hinz has been a disability advocate since his daughter Megan was born with Down syndrome 30 years ago.

The argument inside the Legislature, however, is clearly more about money. A bill to shut ATPC was introduced this year in the House Appropriations Committee and not, interestingly, in Human Services, the committee that generally deals with DDD legislation.

The bill was introduced by Republican Majority Whip John McComish, who says the facility must close because it's too expensive and because the clients can be better served elsewhere.

McComish did not respond to a request for an interview for this story, but he did explain his position at a legislative hearing on the bill held March 5.

"I found that the institutionalization, if that's the correct word, of the developmentally disabled community is not the accepted model today. Community-based care is the best care for people with developmental disabilities issues. The secondary point is that the Coolidge facility is more costly. Thirdly, it really takes very poor advantage of a very valuable state resource [the land it sits on]," he told the committee.

At the hearing, he mentioned he had toured the Coolidge facility, as well as another large, privately run facility in Phoenix.

The bill was tabled at a hearing on March 12, but there's a rumor it could re-emerge in the Senate toward the end of the legislative session.

McComish used the word "institution" several times throughout his statement. It's a word disability advocates have a hard time overcoming.

But in the case of Coolidge, it's a misnomer. These days it's more a nursing home than anything else.

State Representative Pete Rios has fought the facility's closure throughout his entire 24 years in the Arizona Legislature. Rios is a well-known Democrat and former Senate president who represents the district in which ATPC — Coolidge's largest employer — is located. He's not running for re-election, and though he's always defended ATPC, he's now even freer with his opinions.

"I'm totally against the closure of that training center. First of all, because they're getting good care. These people that want to close it say the state should not be running an institution, a very bad image to conjure up," he says. "The training center in Coolidge [consists of] cottages. They're spread out, there's a lot of acreage. They have qualified staff, they have doctors, they have dentists and specialists. Not only should we not be closing the training center, we should be making these service available to others because it's a great resource."

But it's an expensive resource.

The center sits on 87 acres of the 320 acres of land owned by ATPC, land designated by state law for use by the developmentally disabled. Those in favor of closing the facility wonder whether it is the best use for so many acres of land, and say it could be sold, with the profit going into the state's DD Client Services Trust Fund.

(However, on April 18, Governor Janet Napolitano approved budget cuts that hacked $1.6 million from this account as well as $1.8 million from a fund for early autism intervention — leaving many wondering if money from a land sale would actually end up filtering back to developmentally disabled people.)

McComish is right; it does cost money to run. It costs $138,470 a year per person on average, and as the population dwindles, the facility becomes more expensive to operate. The cost of living at ATPC includes extras like dental care and specialized wheelchairs. By contrast, the annual cost per person in a group home is $38,938 a year.

Keep in mind, by statute, Arizona group homes can hold no more than six people and do not include some of the benefits, like preventive dental care, that ATPC residents enjoy. They're also continuously understaffed, with a high turnover rate. Also, housing and attendant care for the Arrington twins and others like them would raise the figure a lot.

Coolidge residents live in cottages or larger dorm-like buildings, depending on their medical needs. And some of them are extremely medically needy in ways that go beyond the scope of their disability. Many are fed through G-tubes and in a semi-vegetative state. Some have lost their ability to speak; others never learned how. The average age here is well over 50 — the average mental age is much younger. More than 100 of the people living here fall at the most severe end of the cognitive disability spectrum — and are dealing with the medical complications that come with age (blindness, Alzheimer's, and cancer, to name just a few) as well.

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6 comments
mrslrichard
mrslrichard

God bless I remember Margie and spent many nights listening to her play and sing. This article brought back many memories.

I worked at the Children's Colony back when it was ATPC, DDD, DISTRICT V. We had to go through vigorous training to work there and the training was ongoing even after we had been there for years. Everything from Client Intervention training to Total Communication and Adaptive Mealtime classes were offered so we would be well prepared to meet each individual's needs.

This all occured in the late 80s early 90s for myself. Many of the people there had been there most of their lives and were resistant to the ideal of its closing and being relocated. The Children's Colony was all they ever knew and was their home.

I am glad after all the Artcle 9 and Title 19 changes the government made one of them was not the closing if ATPC for the beloved people whom lived there their whole lives wanting nothing of the relocation, people like Sue Ann, Pilar, and of course Margie, god bless you all. I miss you so. We weren't just your Habilitation Technicians, we were family.

Maria Contreras
Maria Contreras

Hi, I have recently learned my mother along with her sister and brother were sent to a mental facility in coolidge and would like to know if this one was the only one, I'm guessing in the 60's? if so how can I learn more about this facility? and maybe some photos, I use to work for DDD and remember a video showing us the environment on the inside, is this available to the public? any and all information would greatly be appreciated as my mother has now passed and just need to know her upbringing as well as a friend of mine who has heard her mother was in there too, that is how our parents became friends and long time neighbors, thank you

Justin Marino AB MA
Justin Marino AB MA

I was an Education Specialist who was responsible for supervising teaching personnel in the Anne C. Dew School on the ATPC campus from 1970 to 1972. I was present when Vinnie Caruzo was active as a young man on campus. I would love to meet him again to congratulate him on his ability to make his home at the Coolidge facility. Please extend my best wishes to him if he remembers me. I was the person on staff that insisted he become the ATPC Mail delivery person because he could read and comprehend so well.

Merry Holidays and Best Wishes for a Wonderful New Year.

Sincerely, Justin Marino

Tammie Salke
Tammie Salke

Great story. I personally know the twins. I have worked at ATPC off and on since 1984. Started when I was 19. Many of our individuals wouldn't be here today if not for the care they receive at ATPC. There are Nurses 24/7. Many Dr.s, who see to the needs of those living there. Thank you for shedding some light on what goes on there. A big thank you from those who live there.

junior
junior

great article megan,as the parent of a special needs child your article was right on.those experts who beat there chest about closing down these types of places always forget to mention that when that happened alot of these people did not have families to take them in.a large percentage of them make up the homeless population that we have today and some worse yet wound up in the prison system.because at the time this happened most states did not have a system in place to handle this large population,they went as far as asking these people if they had any relatives living in other states,if they said yes i have a cousin in ohio they bought them bus tickets and sent them to ohio or where ever and never bothered to contact anyone there.60 minutes did a show about this a number of years ago.so much for these experts.by the way arizona ranks near the bottom of the 50 states for providing services to the special needs population.by the way the term mentally retarded is an offensive term to the special needs people.many of these people have physical problems but there brain is as sharp as yours or mine.god bless you for shedding light on the plight of these people.

mrslrichard
mrslrichard

I still have friends whom work there. What information are you trying to obtain? I can drop them an email for you.

 
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