Burns lambasts governor’s veto of bill to keep state centers open

Legislation would have staved off Ebensburg closure until at least 2025

EBENSBURG, Feb. 12 – Calling it a callous approach to vulnerable patients’ needs, state Rep. Frank Burns today decried Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a bill that would have kept Ebensburg State Center and facilities like it open for the foreseeable future.

Burns, D-Cambria, said that besides ignoring the best interests of intellectually disabled residents, their families and dedicated workers at such facilities, Wolf countermanded the will of bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate.

“While Ebensburg State Center was not on the Wolf administration’s immediate chopping block, two similar facilities were, and I enthusiastically supported this bill,” Burns said. “It’s sad that in an age when people want to see Democrats and Republicans work together for the common good, the governor fails to adhere to the will of the people and a bipartisan coalition in the legislature.”

Burns, who was instrumental in fending off the state’s attempt to close Ebensburg State Center in 2017, said it pains him that Wolf has never taken him up on an offer, extended multiple times over the past two years, to visit the facility for a firsthand view of the people who’d be most affected by a closing.

“If the governor’s Jeep Wrangler can get him to his private residence at the top of Wolf Mountain, it surely could make it to Ebensburg,” Burns said. “I don’t understand why he wouldn’t come and look these people in the eye, like I’ve done, before deciding to literally upend their lives and livelihoods.”

Senate Bill 906, which Burns voted for, called for enacting a moratorium on the scheduled closing of the White Haven and Polk state centers, which are sister facilities to the Ebensburg State Center. A House amendment to the bill, vigorously supported by Burns, mandated appointment of a task force to evaluate state centers and provide recommendations to the Department of Human Services prior to the closure of one or more of them.

The bill Burns supported would have delayed closure of any of the state’s four remaining centers for people with intellectual disabilities until 2025. Burns does not believe that uprooting them for placement in private care settings, such as group homes, is in anyone’s best interest.

Despite the governor’s veto, Burns indicated he would join a bipartisan effort to override that decision if it was brought to a vote. The closure of the Polk and White Haven state centers was announced in August. Burns noted that once those two are closed, Ebensburg and Selinsgrove state centers would be next up for closure.

“When the people spoke, I listened. When legislators like me spoke, our fellow legislators listened,” Burns said. But when the people and the legislature spoke, the governor chose not to listen.”