Trustees’ next step

The board of trustees overseeing Polk State Center intends to revisit its opposition to the facility’s planned closure and share their concerns with Gov. Tom Wolf.

“As a board, we will redraft a letter, based on members’ comments, and get board approval,” said Colleen Stuart, chairman of the Polk Center board of trustees at a meeting Wednesday.

The letter will be a follow-up to a resolution the board approved in September that advised the governor it was “not in agreement with the order to close.” The trustees described the closing decision as “ill-advised” and urged the order be overturned.

The earlier meeting also prompted Stuart to write a letter to Wolf outlining her opposition to the closure decision, but said Tuesday she had no response from the governor’s office. The resolution also did not draw a response.

The Polk Center closing was unexpectedly and suddenly announced Aug. 14 by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Polk Center, as well as White Haven State Center in eastern Pennsylvania, will close over the next three years.

The decision was based on the positions held by the governor and the Department of Human Services that developmentally disabled residents should be relocated from institutional settings to community-based living.

Polk Center, at latest count, is home to 191 residents. There are 744 employees at Polk Center.

The board of trustees has received no feedback from either the governor or the state agency, according to Stuart.

Prompting the decision on Wednesday to send further correspondence in opposition to the closing decision was a proposed letter written by a coalition protesting the White Haven and Polk shutdowns and directed to the governor. The trustees were asked to endorse the letter.

The contents include safety issues for residents who would be relocated, the impact on area human services, the lack of transparency in deciding the shutdowns, the economic impact, limited available resources, adherence to “a false narrative” and more. Some of the contents, though, drew opposition from the Polk trustees.

One trustee described the letter as “needlessly inflammatory … and not professional” while another member said it was “emotionally charged … and highly opinionated.”

However, others credited the proposed letter with addressing problems on how the decision was made with one trustee saying it appropriately described a “lack of disregard for (Polk Center)” by the governor.

“Let’s go back and look at the factual parts … and not the emotionally charged parts,” said Stuart, adding that a new letter would be drawn up that meets the trustees’ approval.

Lawsuit in the works

The trustees were encouraged to continue expressing their opposition to the closure by Irene McCabe, leader of the KIIDS (Keeping Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities Safe) organization and the sister of a Polk Center resident. McCabe attended the trustees’ meeting on Wednesday.

“You have to be a voice,” said McCabe, whose group is actively fighting the planned shutdown of Polk Center. “You just have to find the words.”

Prior to the trustees meeting, McCabe shared a postcard that she and other Polk Center supporters intend to distribute. Titled “Polk Center Strong,” the card identifies that group as “family, staff and community working together to advocate for the civil rights of the residents of Polk Center.”

The Polk Center Strong group’s goal, she noted, is to raise $30,000 to launch a class action civil rights lawsuit “to keep our centers open.”

The organization Polk Center Strong has been incorporated and has non-profit status. A Franklin law firm assisted the group in filing for incorporation. Additional information is available by sending an email to

Workforce is ‘outstanding’

Shirley Pickens, Polk Center director, told the trustees that despite the controversy surrounding the Polk Center closing, staff members at the facility have been outstanding.

Noting “there has been a lot of pain for family, people who live here, staff,” Pickens said the employees have “stayed focused on their jobs.”

In addition, a recent state survey of Polk Center resulted in two minor safety violations, both involving fire drill details.

“While those are important issues, I was incredibly proud of everyone here for just two citations,” she said, adding the survey widely encompassed all factors pertaining to the center.

Pickens also updated the board on a contamination of a portion of Polk Center’s water system. A year ago, the center posted a public notice of tainted water after a resident tested positive for the Legionella bacteria.

Several measures to eliminate the contamination have been taken and monthly testing was established for 133 sites on the property. Of those, 14 sites tested positive and none were in residential buildings.

The problem has been confined to Walker Hall and that building is being removed from the water system.

No other individuals have been affected by the bacteria, said Pickens, adding, “The practices we are using are working.”

Serving on the Polk Center board of trustees, in addition to Stuart, are Greg Miller, Joe Lambo, Kim Woods, Charles Walzcak and John Barber.