LISBON - The decision to close EDI-South Workshop and bring the clients with developmental disabilities who work there to Lisbon's facilities has caught some parents and caregivers off guard.
However, Columbiana County Board of Developmental Disability Superintendent Bill Devon said this week it was not a rash decision, but one he has seen coming for about the past two years.
Devon said there is currently an average daily attendance of 185 at the three facilities the sheltered workshops serve. The two in Lisbon, EDI-Central Workshop and the Adult Senior Center can handle 230 people. EDI-South Workshop was utilized by only 66 people and on June 6, Devon already moved 18 of those to EDI-Central.
One of the reasons for the change is low attendance at that facility, but Devon said he understands why parents in East Liverpool and Wellsville find the South workshop, which is located in Calcutta, to be so convenient for them. He also notes rides on buses could be longer for some and parents who normally drop their child off may have to allow them to ride a bus.
"I would love to keep that building open," Devon said. "It would take about 20 people."
However, Devon said there are more reasons for the decision. Closing the facility will mean about $400,000 per year in savings and while Devon said the BDD does have a healthy budget, he also does not see any reason to waste $400,000 taxpayer dollars. He proudly points out he has not been on the ballot for funds since 2007 and it has been 1998 since they have sought a new levy.
About four and a half to five and a half jobs will be lost. Devon said the caregiver ratios will not change, those employees will be moved to the Lisbon locations. The positions which will be lost due to the change will be mostly clerical, nursing and maintenance. Devon said if he privatized the facility 28 would lose their jobs.
When other private workshops have emerged in the area, Devon said the staff at BDD operated facilities have really stepped forward to improve the services offered.
"We have a wonderful staff," Devon said. "They do a wonderful job. I'm very proud of the services we run here."
Devon also sees some advantages to moving everyone to Lisbon. He can offer all the programs currently available at different facilities to everyone. Those who can't work at the candle shop due to allergies will have several other options. No programs are being dropped. Instead all the programs are being consolidated and available to all the clients capable of those tasks.
While Devon sees the availability of more programs for everyone as a plus, there are other concerns about the operation of workshops nationwide. In other states, those operating workshops have been accused of segregated employment, causing them to look at closing workshops and sending those with developmental disabilities out into the workforce.
Devon said Columbiana County is only one of 32 counties in Ohio to still offer sheltered workshops. Through an Employment First state mandate, Devon said he has been required to find jobs for eight clients in vocations outside the workshops this year alone, with additional requirements in upcoming years. He sees more and more clients working elsewhere sometime down the road.
The BDD board recently hired Jacob Lunders, who has been enrolled in programs through the BDD, receives services through a transition waiver and is currently studying marketing management at Youngstown State University. His primary job will be to help find jobs in the community for those currently served at the workshops and transitioning into outside employment.
Devon said he plans to continue operating workshops and the school for those with developmental disabilities for as long as the state and federal government allows them.
While closing EDI-South Workshop after 23 years on Aug. 25 may be just a first step toward the changes that are to come, Devon notes the clients do adjust to change. He plans to have tours of the EDI-Central and ASC facilities available upon request to help those making the change with the transition.
"I'm going to make sure everyone gets TLC," Devon said. "I love these clients, and I love this system. I believe in this system."
He has been personally calling the parents and caregivers of clients to try to address their concerns. He said some are understanding and a few others are upset by the proposed change. He is also planning an informational meeting with parents at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the BDD board offices in Lisbon, where he hopes he can address some of their concerns.
"I hope we all come together and make this easier on the clients," Devon said. "They are all more resilient than we give them credit."