Published in the Courier News, Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Assemblyman Green backs closing city group home
Officials describe home for mentally ill as unsafe, a nuisance
By CELANIE POLANICK
PLAINFIELD -- On Tuesday afternoon, outside the Park Hotel Boarding Home on West Seventh Street, a middle-aged woman wearing plastic butterfly barettes and pink fingernail polish lifted the top of a trash can and looked inside.
She put it back, turned around and walked back into the facility, which is a privately-run, for-profit home for the mentally disabled. The woman came back out and repeated the process a few minutes later.
Local officials are discussing whether to lobby the state Department of Community Affairs not to renew the facility's license in August.
District 22 Assemblyman Jerry Green, D-Plainfield, visited a City Council meeting Monday night to share his opinion: the aging 182-bed facility is an inadequate place to house its clientele and a financial burden to the city.
Within the next two weeks, Green hopes to meet with the state Department of Health and Human Services, the state Department of Community Affairs and Union County officials to try to find placements for the residents in smaller group homes.
Management from the home did not return six phone calls over a two-day period and did not come forward when a reporter visited the property.
The facility has no open violations with the Department of Community Affairs, department spokesman Chris Donnelly said.
"The department would revoke a license and close a facility only if there were significant violations of the residential health-care facility regulations," Donnelly said.
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said she supports Green's request, but wants the city government to be sensitive to the needs of the facility's residents, as well.
"First and foremost, the City of Plainfield is absolutely sensitive to the needs of the residents of the Park Hotel, and we are also mindful of our need to be fiscally prudent," Robinson-Briggs said. "This is a situation where we are asking other municipalities to join us by being responsible for their quality of life situations as it relates to the residents' care and required services. What the city would really like is if the individuals who live in other municipalities but are staying in Plainfield -- we need those municipalities to step up and make provisions for their residents."
Councilman Don Davis said he was "100 percent" behind Green.
"We have to start doing more for people that are inside the city, instead of outside," Davis said. "It's time for other communities to start taking care of their needs."
Davis said he had serious qualms with putting that many mentally disabled residents in one location, calling for "smaller facilities to get them the care they truly need."
"Even if you were healthy, I don't think it's right to have that many people jammed up on top of one another," Davis. "I believe (Assemblyman Green) is really trying to help those in need."
Some Park Hotel residents wander around the neighborhood all day disrupting local businesses, and they may require extra police and emergency services that cost the city money, Green said Monday.
Police respond on a regular basis to medical and mental health calls, police Sgt. Daniel Passarelli said. Park Hotel residents often panhandle but rarely cause larger trouble, he said.
"We basically just try to move them on their way," Passarelli said.
Councilman Cory Storch is the executive director of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, a company that works with Park Hotel residents.
"The Park Hotel is a really outmoded facility," Storch said. "It isn't a good model for community integration. That's definitely an approach that we all should be using -- people would be living independently, or if they needed more support, they would be living in facilities, but much smaller ones."
John Dempsey Jr., a resident, said the facility is clean, with good food.
"They clean my room every day, they clean the hallway," he said.
Dempsey has lived in the home for a year and a few months, he said. If he couldn't live there, he would go to live with his mother in Summit -- but he isn't sure what the rest of the residents would do, he said.
Cathy Ritchie, a psychiatric nurse for Holy Redeemer Health Care, works with some of the residents. They may get hurt while interacting with traffic, but for the most part they're not a danger to others, she said.
"They're really harmless," she said. "They might not look pretty, but when they're taking their medication, they're pretty harmless. A lot of these people have no place else to go."
The amount of supervision the residents get is dictated by the facility's license, Ritchie said.
Local businesspeople have mixed reactions to the issue.
Lorraine George, an employee at the Washland laundromat across the street, said she just tells Park Hotel residents to stay outside.
Adrienne Cole, a Christian products wholesaler who sells through the Plainfield Flower Shop, said she disagrees with the efforts to shut down the home.
"I just don't see why they would want to take something from a group of people that evidently has nowhere else to go," she said, pointing across the street to a man squatting in the facility's parking lot. "Instead of trying to get rid of them, they should be doing some type of fundraising efforts to help maintain it. They're so concerned about the economics? Get some jobs going."
"If they could control their residents, it'd be a much better place," said Norman Rodgers, who runs Rodgers Christian Day Academy across the street from the facility and keeps his brightly-painted front door locked. Rodgers used to work at Eden House in East Orange, and believes in a balanced approach, he said.
"It's definitely needed, but let's just try to control it," Rodgers said. "Increase the staff -- let's put some money into that. What else are you gonna do with the building? Let someone make $100,000 a month off it? That's not fair."
People shouldn't forget the needs of the residents themselves, he said:
"If something like that happened to you or I, we would want and need someplace to stay."
Staff writer Martin C. Bricketto contributed to this report.
It is time for a new Plainfield to surface. There's no beauty to Plainfield and beautification is what the city needs. Find a new location for the group home. It's bad for business. I've lived in Plainfield close to 40 years and it has gone down, while towns like Westfield have grown!! NO REAL businesses wants to return to Plainfield. I would love to sit in Starbucks in Plainfield instead of Westfield. Downtown Plainfield has nothing to offer when it comes to shopping. Harlem, New York, has a Starbucks. Plainfield is becoming a JOKE!! I have to agree with Jerry Green.
Posted: Wed May 23, 2007 10:17 am
I agree the place should be closed down.It's almost in the heart of town.We should find places for our own "trouble souls " and let the other towns find places for theirs.Why should other towns dump their problems in our town?If each town took care of their sick they could be placed in smaller places .Plainfield is a dropping place for what ever other cities don't want.I'm sure most of these residents are not from Plainfield.Let each city take care of their own.Go Jerry Green I'm behind you in this.
Posted: Wed May 23, 2007 9:42 am
Green backs! Is this an Imus joke? Jeez.
Posted: Wed May 23, 2007 9:31 am
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.