Rally planned to save Polk Center

Organizations, political figures and local residents have joined together to schedule a rally to save Polk Center.

The rally, scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 2, which is Labor Day, will be held in front of the county courthouse in Franklin.

David Henderson, director of AFSCME Council 85 that represents 646 of the 744 employees at Polk Center, said efforts to schedule the rally have been made by numerous individuals.

“We are coordinating it but with a lot of effort being offered by our Chambers of Commerce, elected officials and others,” said Henderson.

The organizers are rounding up speakers for the rally.

“We are lining up a cross mix of folks and there will hopefully be some relatives of Polk Center residents, some public officials and some business people,” said Henderson. “We are trying to bring attention to the issue and show the entire community is supporting the fact they don’t want Polk Center to be closed.”

For Henderson, the AFSCME council is vigorously involved beyond the potential loss of jobs.

“AFSCME is opposed to anything that is detrimental to our most vulnerable residents of the commonwealth,” he said. “It is such a misguided decision to go this direction, to close it, because so many will be adversely affected. That’s why we are involved – the most important thing in this whole ordeal are the residents who live there. We can’t get beyond that.”

The Labor Day rally is “open to everyone,” said Henderson.

In a flyer issued for the rally, the reason given as to “the why” of holding the gathering notes Polk Center is the home of “hundreds of residents with intellectual disabilities and … (the) workplace of hundreds of devoted employees.”

It continues, “Residents, elected officials, the public and employees alike were blindsided by this announcement. It is a misguided decision that will uproot and endanger people’s lives, and it must be reversed.”

The call for a public rally stems from the Aug. 14 announcement by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services that Polk Center and White Haven State Center in Luzerne County would be shut down within the next three years.

The impetus to shutter the facilities stemmed from financial considerations as well as the department’s insistence that center residents would be better served outside an institutional setting and into community-based settings.

Polk Center, founded in 1897, is home to 194 residents. The facility includes eight buildings located on 2,000 acres.