Christine Stuart photo

(Updated 5:14 p.m.) Parents and union employees gathered outside Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office Tuesday afternoon to ask her again not to privatize 17 group homes and close two psychiatric hospitals and two drug treatment facilities.

Rell was not in the office, but her spokesman Adam Liegeot accepted a letter on her behalf and let the group know he would convey their sentiments to her.

Michelle Labbe, who works at one of the group homes in Columbia which is slated to be privatized, said the legislature included money in their budget for the homes, hospitals, and drug treatment facilities so she doesn’t understand why Rell’s administration would keep pushing for closure.

Debra Chernoff, spokeswoman for District 1199 SEIU, said it looks like Rell is continuing to use her administrative power to do what she failed to do legislatively. However, Chernoff feels like there was a legislative process and the legislature concluded that funding these homes was the right thing to do.

It’s unclear if the legislature will attempt to clarify the matter this week when it returns to the Capitol to finish the $37.6 billion budget.

Joan Barnish, director of communications for the Department of Developmental Services, said the plan to privatize 17 group homes became necessary as a result of the early retirement package offered to state employees.

“DDS needs to convert 17 Community Living Arrangements (CLAs) to the private sector because of the RIP and close another five homes for other reasons, including physical plant issues,” Barnish said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon. “All of the clients in the conversion homes will remain in their homes and all of the DDS staff will be offered opportunities to fill the rest of the vacancies left open from the RIP.”

“How can you do this to these people who need these services?” Chernoff said.

Many of the parents talked about how traumatic it will be for their children to wake up one day and have a complete stranger bathing them.

Several mothers and families members said their relatives based on their disabilities, don’t react well to change.

Mary Ann Barile whose son Vinny has lived in one of the homes for years said due to the consistency of the staff her son has been able to come home for the holidays and attend family functions.

“This is all due to the consistency and continuity of care he has received from staff who know him, understand him and love him,” Barile said. “All that will collapse if these homes are privatized.”

“The residents did not cause this problem,” Glenda Sherrod, whose foster brother and nephew are disabled told Liegeot outside Rell’s office Tuesday. “They need the funds, but she’s not hearing that because she has no heart because its not her child or her grandchild.”