Gov. Pat Quinn announced plans last week to close two state mental health institutions and move their patients into community-based care. The governor is getting a ton of heat over this decision, from politicians, from parents of patients and from community leaders. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. said the state is “balancing its budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Quinn is making the right decision. He’s making a sound decision in terms of public health and the state’s financial health.
The facilities that Quinn has targeted should have closed decades ago.
The downstate Jacksonville Developmental Center dates in part from the pre-Civil War 1850s. The state pays $1.2 million a year to buy coal for its antique heating system. The governor plans to close Tinley Park in July and Jacksonville in October.
This will result in a huge fiscal payoff for the state. Illinois spends on average between $150,000 and $210,000 every year to support a person in a state facility for developmental disabilities, according to the governor’s office. The annual average cost in community care is $45,000 to $84,000.
If this were purely dollars and cents, if it put residents at risk, it wouldn’t deserve support. But this is the right health care decision, too.
The evidence shows that community settings will give better care for the residents of the state facilities. It has worked in most states across the country that have undergone the shift. Illinois has the luxury of learning from the experience of Michigan, for instance. Quinn’s staff has incorporated some important lessons into his plan — such as a person-centered approach and a commitment to follow-up monitoring.
The transfer creates some uncertainty for the residents and their parents and guardians. Citizens who have serious mental-health conditions are a vulnerable population.
The governor, though, has established a clear, workable framework for managing the transition to community care. His plan for closing these inefficient facilities takes every reasonable precaution. It puts the interests of residents first — as it should.
Each individual will receive a personal evaluation to determine the best possible placement. Families and guardians will play an active role in the determinations. Funding will follow each person to his new home. If a state-run institution is the best option, that will be available through other facilities that remain open.
After the transition, many people now locked into restrictive environments will live with greater freedom and comfort in smaller-scale homes located closer to their loved ones.
Illinois is far behind many other states in making this transition from obsolete and expensive state-run centers to community care. This is a modest start, much scaled down from Quinn’s proposal last year to shut down seven state facilities and lay off 1,900 workers.
But the heat is on the governor. “To cease services to the mentally ill in the Southland area can only contribute to increased violence and other community perils that come with a lack of public health infrastructure which will most certainly be compounded if Tinley Park is shuttered,” said Lynda DeLaforgue, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois.
Whew. Let’s be clear: The state will provide better mental health care through this transition. Governor, you’re on the right track.