Legal effort already in works to try and halt Polk closure

Can the state’s decision to shut down Polk Center over the next three years be overturned?


That possibility is the only encouragement a wide swath of people needs to launch a legal campaign to save the center.

“Yes, we are preparing to file a federal injunction,” said Irene McCabe, leader of the KIIDS (Keeping Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities Safe) organization and the sister of a Polk Center resident.

The group as well as other organizations are teaming up to prepare the filing, McCabe said.

“It’s in the works but it is enormously expensive,” said McCabe. “But we have legal experts advising us. We didn’t invent this process. It has been done elsewhere and has been successful.”

While its focus may be on a violation of constitutional rights for the Polk Center residents, the final wording hasn’t yet been determined, McCabe said. An injunction would temporarily halt any pre-closure efforts.

Dave Nichol, a Butler County resident whose brother lives at Polk Center, is also involved in the effort.

“This has been done in other states and some have been successful,” he said.

In addition, state Sen. Michelle Brooks (R-50th) of Greenville has scheduled a public hearing at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, in Harrisburg to consider the proposed Polk Center and White Haven Center shutdowns. Brooks is chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Also on the committee is state Sen. Scott Hutchinson of Oil City, who has described the pending closure as his “top, top priority.”

A measure approved by the state legislature, too, could halt the closures. It would call for a moratorium on any efforts to shut the centers.

No such bill has yet been introduced, but McCabe said Polk Center supporters are “looking into everything.”

Despite the challenges, state officials are insisting the decision to close both Polk and White Haven is final.

“This is final. The hearing (held Monday) was required by law and was important for the transition phase,” said Kristin Ahrens, a representative for the state office of developmental programs who attended the Polk Center trustees meeting Tuesday. “This decision is final.”

And, when the initial announcement was made Aug. 14, Teresa Miller, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, said the decision was deemed final, too.

“There is no plan to go back. I do not anticipate that,” Miller said.