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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Vargas Vidot: Threat to operations at vocational rehab center was avoidable

Sen. José Vargas Vidot

By John McPhaul

The planned cessation of operations at the Vocational Rehabilitation Center in San Juan, which seeks to enable people with functional diversity to find jobs and live independently, was avoidable, independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot says.

The center, which is located on the campus of the Medical Center (Centro Médico) in Río Piedras, addresses the needs of almost 40% of the people who require vocational rehabilitation services in Puerto Rico, according to what emerged late last week at a public hearing of the Committee on Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction, chaired by Vargas Vidot. At the moment, officials are talking about transferring the services to the Mercantil Plaza building in San Juan despite the fact that the people who benefit from the center have warned that the move would result in inaccessibility, hindrance and a decrease in services.

Although it is known that the center (whose official name is the San Juan Assessment and Adjustment Center) has deteriorated, Vargas Vidot argued that the physical condition of the building is the result of years of neglect by the government and the Vocational Rehabilitation Administration (ARV), which never invested in the maintenance and restoration of the property. He said the ARV’s inaction regarding the deterioration of the building was aggravated by Hurricane Maria and the coronavirus pandemic, and has caused a gradual reduction in services.

At the public hearing, the ARV administrator, María Gómez García, attributed the transfer to the fact that a part of the current building is in disuse and that the rest of the facility is not necessary for the provision of services. That is despite complaints that have arisen about the few and limited services that the center currently offers.

Gómez García argued that moving to Mercantil Plaza would save the agency more than $180,000 a year. The administrator also noted that the ARV has restrictions on the use of federal funds since the Puerto Rico Medical Services Administration (ASEM by its Spanish initials) owns the current building.

Access to those federal funds and the permanence of the Vocational Rehabilitation Center on the grounds of the Medical Center depended on a lease for $1 for 20 years that the ARV requested from ASEM to guarantee the continuity of the center’s services. However, ASEM Executive Director Jorge Matta said the Medical Center’s Board of Participating Entities denied that lease.

Given this, the committee requested that ASEM deliver the minutes of the meeting in which the contract was denied in order to determine the reasons for the determination.

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