Bill to close Austin’s State Supported Living Center dies in committee

Matthew Adams

Senate Bill 204, which contained legislation that would close Austin’s State Supported Living Center, did not pass May 31 after months of anticipated approval because the committee could not reach an agreement before its deadline.

Sen. Juan Hinojosa (D-McAllen) authored the bill, which was intended to strengthen the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services’ (DADS) authority over nursing homes and other long-term health care providers. These services seek to increase support of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and put scrutiny on daytime habilitation facilities serving people with IDD.

Over the past five years, 13 State Supported Living Centers, which are campus-based and provide 24-hour service, were reported for neglecting residents, poor quality of care and outdated infrastructure.

Jennifer Saenz, deputy chief of staff for Hinojosa, said the Austin State Supported Living Center received so much attention since the bill called for DADS to close the facility in August 2017. In a statement from Hinojosa’s office, the facility had the most serious and repeated health and safety violations of all the State Supported Living Centers.

Nona Rogers, whose brother is a resident at the Austin State Supported Living Center and has Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease, said she did not notice any kind of health concerns around her brother.  She said a facility survey can be subjective in that, if there is something wrong in one home, the whole facility gets punished.

Rogers said the center’s 24/7 care is good for her brother’s needs and is beneficial for others who require varying degrees of treatment.

“Some residents need to be hand-fed by a staff member,” Rogers said.  “Some residents need to have a trolley bath — a medical lift that moves the resident from the bed to the wheelchair.”   

Saenz said the House added amendments that were different from the Senate’s, so SB 204 had to be sent to a conference committee to resolve the discrepancies.

“The Senate had some proposals working in good faith trying to talk with the compromise and the House refused to clip any of those,” Saenz said.  “So there was no agreement and the bill died.”

In a press release following the bill’s defeat, Hinojosa said a solution needs to be found that recognizes the needs for such facilities. However, by not being able to get this bill signed, Hinojosa said there will still be problems with the center.

“The result is that no Restructuring Commission will be reformed and many good provisions for our IDD population have been lost,” Hinojosa said in the statement.  “The population of all [State Supported Living Centers] statewide has decreased from 13,700 residents to just 3,600 and it is a challenge as we transition to more community based services.”

Cecilia Cavuto, media relations manager for DADS, said the bill’s failure is not entirely negative because people with IDD have other options.

“It is important that the people we serve have options when it comes to choosing long-term care services,” Cavuto said.  “The [State Supported Living Centers] are an important option for people with IDD and their loved ones.”

Rogers said that, while the facility gets to stay open, DADS mandated that seven homes on the grounds be closed in June 2014, and that decision forced some families to find another facility.  Rogers said she and other families are working to push DADS and the Health and Human Services to allow these families to move back to the Austin center.