The following opinion piece by Bruce Palmer, Chair of the Fremont County Democratic Party, ran in today’s Casper Star-Tribune:
In Wyoming we pride ourselves on our sound judgment, abundant resources and concern for our neighbor. It is time to live these values by investing our state’s wealth and making improvements to the services offered the severely developmentally disabled. Admirably, last session the Legislature asked the Department of Health to eliminate waitlists for services, but unfortunately they are doing this on the backs of those already in the system by scaling back services and embarking on a “study” of the Wyoming Life Resource Center.
As a resident of Lander I am aware of the importance of this facility to Lander, the state of Wyoming, and most particularly to the clients who reside there and their families who have the piece of mind that comes with knowing that their loved one is well-cared for.
The Wyoming Life Resource Center offers excellent service to many of our state’s most vulnerable citizens—the severely developmentally disabled and those with acquired brain injuries. The service provided these Wyoming citizens cannot be replicated in community-based programs—from the work programs that give the clients a sense of belonging and self-worth to the aquatic and therapeutic riding programs that brings joy to a person for whom every day is a challenge.
In the 1990s the vast majority of the residents of the Wyoming Life Resource Center (known then as the Wyoming State Training School) were removed from the facility and placed in community-based programs. These citizens have added greatly to our communities. Just this past winter the town of Lander had a funeral celebrating the life of John Cooper, a former client of the WLRC and a much-loved part of our community. John walked Lander’s Main Street and waved to every car that came through town. He was our goodwill ambassador. Not only was he our welcoming committee, he was also a master of farewells attending nearly every funeral performed in town. It was great being able to count him as a part of the life of our community. We are all richer for it.
John belonged in an adequately funded community-based program. He was able to get around town on his own and with help from his guardian and the available community services was able to navigate life. He was happy and loved and a testament to the benefits of being appropriately placed in the right situation.
Not every developmentally disabled person is the same. Like all of us they have different abilities and different needs. While John was able to lead a good life in the community, the clients of the Wyoming Life Resource Center have needs that are greater than what can be addressed in community-based programming. The people who are like John are already in community programs—some thriving as John did and some struggling. Our state needs both appropriately funded community-based options and the Wyoming Life Resource Center.
Over the past year I have been able to meet many of the 400 plus staff that make the WLRC a true gem in the community of Lander. I met people who were directly involved with client care and rehabilitation, maintenance staff and, to me, a surprise, staff who focus completely on maintaining and customizing wheelchairs and other durable medical products for the clients and others around the state. To a person I found these staff to be passionate about the work that they do for the Wyoming Life Resource Center and dedicated to the client experience.
Both the Wyoming Life Resource Center and our community-based programming show our compassion and caring for all of our citizens.
And our state has the resources to pay for them. Yes, we must be prudent, but we needn’t be stingy.
Bruce Palmer lives in Lander and is the Chair of the Fremont County Democratic Party.