SPRINGFIELD — A coalition of advocates for the developmentally disabled is calling for the eventual closure of six of seven of the state’s residential centers.
The Going Home coalition is not proposing legislation this session and it’s not saying which of the existing centers should remain open.
But the coalition’s proposal is not without opponents and, in fact, reveals a divide in the community of developmentally disabled people and their families.
Going Home says community-based care can provide a better quality of living for the 1,730 people now in state-operated centers.
And, it says, community caregivers can do the job not only better, but cheaper.
The coalition says Illinois is spending about $429 million annually to serve state center residents. It says community-based caregivers can do that job equally well or better for about $92 million per year.
“Illinois is facing a major budget crisis. This is a unique opportunity to save the state significant money,” said Cheryl Jansen, legislative director of Equip for Equality, one of the coalition members.
Further, the coalition says, Illinois is following an antiquated care or service model that warehouses individuals.
It cites Illinois’ status as the state with the third-most people in residential care, behind only New York and Texas.
At the same time, the coalition says, Illinois ranks 47th in the country when it comes to providing funding for community living for the developmentally disabled.
Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois, said Illinois is still warehousing the developmentally disabled and must transition to community-based care.
Fourteen states currently have no state centers and 35 states have 500 or fewer people living in state-operated centers, he said.
But the coalition is not the sole voice among the developmentally disabled or their guardians and caregivers.
“They may have said they want to close six, but they want to close all of them,” said Rita Burke, president of Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, or IL-ADD.
Burke, the parent of adult resident of Choate Mental Health Center in Anna, said her organization doesn’t agree that every resident of the state’s centers can survive, let alone thrive, outside the centers.
Her group includes many officers of the parents associations of the seven remaining state centers, and those parents groups do not support mass or sudden closures.
She argues the cost savings cited by Going Home is vastly oversimplified and does not adequately address care for individuals with extraordinary medical needs.
And considering Illinois is ranked 47th in the state in terms of support for community-based care, what makes anyone think it will suddenly be ready to transfer 1,700 people to community care, she asked.
State Rep. Charles Meier, R-Okawville, is a passionate defender of the Murray Center in Centralia, which the Quinn administration tried to close.
For now, at least, the Murray Center remains open.
But he says some of the initial transfers out were badly handled and, in fact, put people in settings that met their needs far less successfully than the state center did.
“People have the right to decide where they want to live, “ he said, and many state residents— and their parents or guardians — believe they have do have good lives and wish to remain in the state centers.
He says rushing to close centers is a poor idea, and the state will “certainly need more than one,” given both the state’s physical size and its population.
Meier and many parents point to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead vs. L.C., saying they say the residents of the state centers have a right to choose to remain where they are.
In that case, two residents of a Georgia state facility sued to prevent being inappropriately treated and housed in the institutional setting.
The court ruled that individuals are entitled to treatment in the most integrated setting possible as determined on case-by-case basis, and it said that in some cases that might include institutions. The court held transfers must meet three criteria:
The new setting is appropriate according to state treatment professionals.
The new setting is not opposed by the resident and is less restrictive than the state institution.
The transfer can be reasonably accommodated given the resources of the state.
The court also said there is no federal requirement that community-based treatment be imposed.
Illinois’ seven centers for the developmentally disabled are in Anna, Centralia, Dwight, Dixon, Kankakee, Park Forest and Waukegan.
Since 2001, the state has closed centers in Lincoln, Tinley Park and Jacksonville.
The seven remaining Illinois centers employ a total of roughly 3,600 people, most of them represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has opposed facility closures in the past. An AFSCME Council 31 spokesman declined to comment for this story.
Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network.