Mediation begins in Polk, White Haven case

Plaintiffs and defendants in the case involving the planned closure of both Polk and White Haven state centers met March 1 for the first time since a mediation agreement was reached in January.

The agreement pushed the state’s scheduled closure date of both facilities — from Aug. 30 to Nov. 30 — and allows both sides to further negotiate, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Tom York, who represents more than 200 residents and family members from both facilities.

“This does not mean we agreed to a Nov. 30 closure,” York told the newspaper on Wednesday. “This gives us more time to talk.”

Meanwhile, York said, litigation in the case against the defendants, which includes Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Human Services (DHS), was recently put on hold and will be stayed until April 2.

“Our hope is for a ruling by the court on one side or the other,” York said. “It’s a small win (for the plaintiffs), but we get an additional 90 days to negotiate.”

York said the mediation is “good for our side,” but if it doesn’t work out “we are not giving up on litigation.”

“We will seek a preliminary injunction to stop closure as Nov. 30 approaches” provided there is no agreement between the two sides, York said. However, “we wouldn’t wait until the last day (Nov. 30)” to seek the injunction.

“The battle still goes on,” he said.

The plaintiffs filed suit with the Pennsylvania Middle District Court on Jan. 29, 2020, about four months after the state announced — in August 2019 — that both Polk and White Haven, which is in Luzerne County, will close in August of this year.

An injunction filed late last year sought to halt the process of transitioning residents from the facilities to community-based residential placements because, the motion states, the process is “purposely fabricated and manipulated” by the state.

The plaintiffs also cite, among other things, evolving staffing issues since the closure announcement has caused the needs of the centers’ residents to not be satisfactorily met.