Women with disabilities to lose residential facility

East Lyme A residential facility for young women with disabilities in Niantic is closing Friday, citing a lack of funding and the inability to meet the criteria to receive money from the state Department of Developmental Disabilities.

The closing of North Washington House, operated by Lighthouse Voc-ed Center on North Washington Avenue, displaces five women. The future of a second facility, Beckwith House on Beckwith Street in Niantic, is also in question.

Lighthouse operates three private special-education schools in Groton and Niantic that offer day and evening programs, with a transitional residential program offered during the week in Niantic.

Women in Lighthouse facilities who are under the age of 21 are funded for the five-day-a-week program by their local school districts. Some families of older residents receive direct support from DDS, but parents and guardians pay for their housing, including utilities and food.

The women stay at either 28 N. Washington Ave. or 28 Beckwith St. during the week and go home on the weekends. The primary goal of the facilities is to develop life skills such as learning to ride the bus, cook and clean and search for a job so the women can function independently.

Lighthouse has been working with students from southeastern Connecticut since 1992 and became fully accredited in February 2006, but it is neither fully funded by nor licensed through DDS.

Guardians of the five girls were notified by letter Monday that North Washington is closing in 11 days and residents have until Jan. 4 to move out their belongings.

"It's extremely difficult because I always believe that there's a solution to every problem," Lighthouse Voc-ed Center Executive Director Kathy Greene said. "This was a tremendously difficult letter to write (to parents) that financially there wasn't enough to sustain it. It's been agonizing. I know how upset the parents are."

In August, representatives from DDS told Greene that because of the state budget crunch, to continue the residential program at North Washington, Lighthouse needed to meet specific criteria so the department could justify its funding and be reimbursed by the federal government. One of those requirements was for the program to be defined under a Medicaid waiver.

Then, Greene said, one woman in the program decided to take a six-month leave of absence. Without a full facility, Greene said the board realized it wouldn't be able to sustain the program because expenses were greater than income.

Greene said case managers representing the residents are supposed to be working with them and DDS to find other arrangements.

"We're trying to figure out the best placements for each of them, and not to leave them out in the cold," Greene said. "We realize moving them back home would be difficult."

East Lyme resident Jeanne Berg said her daughter, Alyssa, has lived at North Washington for two-and-a-half years. Alyssa, 22, has tuberous sclerosis complex, which causes frequent seizures. Her mother said the program at Lighthouse has been terrific for her daughter.

"It's been really wonderful. Before she was going there she had no friends and no social life," Berg said. "Now she's making great strides."

For years, Alyssa's family has adjusted to her staying at North Washington, where she receives services, has a part-time job and socializes with the others, during the week. Now, Berg said she's worried that Alyssa won't be able to get the constant supervision she needs.

"I don't know what we're going to end up doing," Berg said. "I feel like the Lighthouse should have given us six months to make a plan."

Beckwith has two girls currently staying at the facility. Greene said the department is looking into the future of that facility. Neither of those residents are funded by DDS.

Diane Martin, a Waterford resident, said her daughter, Elaine, who is 22, has been at Beckwith House for one-and-a-half years. She said Elaine has become more independent and mature since living there.

"The girls are closer than most sisters. It's just amazing to see them together," Martin said. "It's a wonderful program, that's why us parents are so upset. It's like taking a very close family and scattering them."

The Lighthouse Voc-ed Center also has an art gallery and a digital media studio.

The future use of the North Washington home is still unclear, but Greene said she thinks that it could turn into a transitional facility for 18- to-21-year-olds, where the majority of the funding would come from the schools.

a.renczkowski@theday.com

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