It is a lot less expensive to support people with
developmental disabilities in the community than in state-run institutions,
Washington's Department of Social and Health Services has learned.
A study conducted by the department's Research and Data Analysis Division
found that the cost of community supports is about 26 percent less,
according to a DSHS press statement.
The results are good news for advocates of community living who have been
pushing for several decades for the closure of Washington's institutions,
here called "residential habilitation centers".
Previous studies have been criticized for not comparing "apples to apples"
in that they did not measure the costs of supporting the same people in both
community and institutional settings. This study, however, tracked a group
of 37 people who moved from state-run RHCs to community supports from
February 1999 to June 2003.
Researchers found that the state spent an average of $12,304 per month on
each person housed in institutions for the four months prior to moving out.
The cost for the same 37 people dropped to $9,127 per month per person after
they began living in the community.
In other words, the savings per month for each person who left the
institutions was an average of $3,177, or 26 percent less in the community.
Linda Rolfe, director of the DSHS' Division of Developmental Disabilities,
said the results of the study will be used for DDD's own planning and to
provide information for the Legislature, Office of Financial Management and
other interested parties.
"This study answers a question for which our division has been seeking an
answer for a long time: what are the differences in costs between
institutional and community residential services," Rolfe said in the
Some costs, such as transportation, public housing subsidies, state employee
pensions, and capital expenditures were not included in the study. The study
did not measure individual costs, but averaged the costs for the entire
The state of Washington serves 33,000 people with developmental
disabilities. Last year, one-third of the state's DDD budget -- $305
million -- was spent to house about 1,000 of those people in the five RHCs.
Forty-three percent, or $399 million, went to community-based services,
while 24 percent, or $234 million, went to people receiving services in
The last considerable shift from institutions to community supports in
Washington occurred with the 1993 closure of Interlake School in Medical
Lake. Since then, attempts to down-size or close other RHCs has been met by
strong resistance from family members of those housed at the institutions,
along with the union that employs several thousand state employees.
In 2003, the Legislature did order the state to close some cottages at
Fircrest School, an RHC just north of Seattle, and consolidate services by
moving the individuals housed there into "empty beds" at the other
facilities or to the community. Most have been transferred to Rainier
School, an RHC southwest of Seattle.
Cost Comparison Outline: RHC Compared to Community Care (DSHS Research &
Data Analysis Division)
Carrying out the Legislature's direction to downsize Fircrest residential
center in Shoreline (DSHS)
"Institutions in Washington State" (Inclusion Daily Express)