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ACLD Holds Groundbreaking for New Charles Evans Health Services Center

New Facility to Serve Long Island’s Growing Developmentally Disabled Population

When Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities, Inc. (ACLD) opened its first clinical services and medical operations in 1992, the organization was planning on serving a few hundred people on an annual basis. Apparently, things changed. “Today, that number is over 1,700 people from Nassau, Suffolk, Queens [and] Brooklyn,” said Rick Wirth, assistant executive director for children and health services at ACLD.

On Tuesday, June 21, in keeping with the organizations growth, ACLD held a groundbreaking for a brand new facility- the Charles Evans Health Services Center- which will be built adjacent to their existing Bethpage headquarters. The new 22,000 square foot center, designed by Fusion Architecture of Plainview and expected to be completed in 2012, will house ACLD’s Adult Service Center, two dental operatories featuring digital dental x-ray equipment, and a layout designed specifically for people with developmental disabilities. Furthermore, the center will have more examination and treatment rooms in order to diminish patient wait times.

For many, this new addition has been a long time in the making. “This is a day that many of us gathered here have been working toward and looking forward to for well over a decade,” said Wirth. “A day when ACLD takes another giant step in its ongoing mission to provide an enviable life for the people we support.”

Twenty years ago, the organization bought a parcel of land along South Oyster Bay Road in Bethpage from Northrop Grumman. A third of that land was left undeveloped, kept in reserve for the day when new needs would arise. According to executive director Aaron Liebowitz, it was the changing age group of the center’s patients that called for more space.

“Many of our initial programs were geared towards children and young adults. I guess none of us expected to experience how quickly time goes by, and as these younger people were becoming older people, we realized that their needs were changing medically, and we needed to begin to support those needs, because the care in the community- even for people who use Medicaid- is poor,” said Liebowitz.

A decade ago, fundraising for the new facility was in full force, when the events of September 11, 2001 prompted a change in direction. Liebowitz remembered a meeting with the board of trustees just after the attacks: “We all looked at each other and said, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the world now; this is a big commitment to make in such an uncertain time.”

Now, a decade after the project was initially stalled, in the face of what ACLD sees as an overwhelming need, the final piece of the land purchased from Grumman is being developed by Axis Construction of Hauppauge. That’s not the end of the possible additions in sight, however; as a separate project, ACLD plans to build residential housing units for the disabled right next to the new center. The housing project is awaiting final approval from the state.

At the groundbreaking, in addition to discussing the details of the new facility, much attention was paid to the people of ACLD- both patients and employees. Dr. Richard Kessler, chief medical officer, told the story of Michael, a “poster child” for ACLD, explained Kessler- both in the traditional sense, and because Michael used his impressive artistic skills to draw a poster, adorned with Disney characters, that will brighten the new building further. Diagnosed with autism at age 7, Michael had great difficultly adapting to life after school, only to come to ACLD in 2007, Kessler said. Now, in addition to working in retail part-time, he is also pursuing an art career- he has won awards for his work, and his art has been displayed at the Disney Expo.

Several speakers also took a moment to praise ACLD’s staff. Don Mitzner, capital campaign chairperson (and former board of trustees president) stated “…It’s not only the facility that we’re here to celebrate- it’s really the services and the program that’s in the facility, and the importance of what the ACLD folks are going to provide to all of our less fortunate or disabled individuals.”

Liebowitz also noted the importance of attitude for staff. “When we talk about an enviable life for people with disabilities- that’s our mission- that can’t happen unless the people who are doing that can themselves see the possibility, if not the reality, of an enviable life for themselves,” said Liebowitz. “So it’s the people who are here every day that incorporate that spirit and bring it to the work that they do that hopefully has the outcomes that we work for and strive for every day.”

In addition to the new and expanded services that will be offered by the Charles Evans Health Center, Liebowitz explained that the experience of visiting ACLD will be that much more pleasant, now that disabled patients will have an easier time navigating the facility, and waiting times will be reduced. Making patient’s visits convenient, instead of just necessary, is part of ACLD’s philosophy.

“We believe that our environments have to express our values about the people that we support. If you or I didn’t want to go to a facility like this, we shouldn’t expect people with disabilities to,” said Liebowitz.

For more information about ACLD, visit www.acld.org