More than 100 of the people who live here are diagnosed with severe or profound disabilities, and therapy like this is how the staff keeps them active. No one spends all day in any one room. They all go to work, their retirement program, or therapy every weekday.

A tour of several of the living cottages reveals clean quarters, where most clients have their bedrooms decorated however they want (Spider-Man is popular here). Each room feels individualized with photos, some over 50 years old, of family members, and personal belongings such as china dolls (in a glass case) purchased for the residents. The facility just bought a $10,000, high-tech bathtub to help caretakers bathe their fragile clients. One cottage is outfitted for the sight-impaired. Three-wheeled bikes are parked outside others.

In the living room of one of the homes, a woman named Margie sits at a piano. Margie is thought to have autism, though no diagnosis was made when she was a little girl. If she'd been born today and treated with modern methods, her life could have been much different, staffers say.

Brian Stauffer
The Arrington family, including (front row) the twins and Darla Kay, and (back row) Faye Arrington and Blinda Mills.
Courtesy of Blinda Mills
The Arrington family, including (front row) the twins and Darla Kay, and (back row) Faye Arrington and Blinda Mills.

Margie is probably a genius. She reportedly started playing the piano by ear when she was 2. She can play any song after hearing it once, the staff says. She has a piano at ATPC, but she wants a new one. Hers isn't tuned right, Margie says. The family and friends support group is saving to buy her a replacement.

On that same March afternoon, Margie sits on the bench, fingers poised on the keys. She has quite an audience today — five strangers on a tour and a few familiar faces. She grins and settles in to play.

As her audience quiets down, Margie presses the keys. The song is "Amazing Grace," and she performs every verse perfectly.

In light of how familial ATPC feels, it's easier to understand why parents, guardians — and some others — are so insistent it stay open.

Elliot Gory, the psychologist who has worked part time at Coolidge for 30 years, says the clients here are safe. He wonders if it might damage them to move so late in life.

"I get into every nook and cranny. The staff is caring, gentle, and they're skilled. I talk with staff who have known the client I'm working with for 20 years," he says. "There's always the risk of trauma if you relocate someone who is older. There are negative health effects and on top of that, these are people with developmental disabilities who are not resilient. They have difficulty accepting change."


A visit to Hacienda de Los Angeles, the only other large Intermediate Care Facility for the Mentally Retarded in the state, shows a place similar to ATPC. It's newer; one wing was just completed last year. It's also a lot smaller. The facility near South Mountain has 60 beds; 39 are full.

Residents at Hacienda all share bedrooms, most of which are considerably less personalized than the rooms at Coolidge, though no less efficient. The age range at Hacienda is different as well; it has residents as young as 6 and is equipped to take care of babies.

In the early afternoon, all residents are split into small groups to listen to music and work on arts and crafts. The facility has a playground adapted so that even wheelchairs can be placed on the swings. There's a pool, and a local Kiwanis club funded the construction of an apartment where family members can stay when visiting.

Aside from the location and the number of beds, it's not much different from Coolidge. But no one is trying to shut Hacienda down.

Hacienda's executive director, Bill Timmons, has led the effort at the Legislature to close ATPC.

"I don't think the Coolidge staff are mistreating the residents. I believe their heart is in the right place," he says. "But I also don't believe these Arizona citizens should have to live in a place that's not a community. Secondary to that, it costs so much money."

He does make some good points. Though the core staff at Coolidge has been there a long time, only 12 full-time nurses work there. Timmons, who runs a nurse-registry service, says that's not enough. His registry provides nurses to ATPC sometimes, and he says they often have a hard time covering the third shift and weekends.

He may be biased, but there is some truth to what he says. He also points out the state Department of Health Services licensing violations that ATPC has accumulated over the past few years, even going so far as to put them in a binder for a reporter (though he didn't provide the same information on his own facility).

On the surface it appears to be a lot. Some of the violations are mundane: a door wedged open with a dustpan or too much dust on the fan blades. Some are important but not life-threatening: a resident being fed instead of being encouraged to feed himself, for example.

But others are less disturbing if you know the backstory. In a November 2007 report, DHS inspectors found that the facility "failed to monitor three individuals' fluid intake and output, bowel movements, and failed to provide medical studies (colon­oscopy for one individual). Individual numbers 2, 6, and 14 subsequently required hospitalization."

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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 like.author.displayName 1 Like

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

mrslrichard
mrslrichard

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

 
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