The State Journal Register in Springfield ran an editorial on the closing of Jacksonville Developmental Center. My response and the editorial are copied below. Now the discussion needs to move from closing state institutions to making a successful transition to community living.The Arc and other advocates have been calling for the rebalancing of the disability system for many years. We are committed to working with families at the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other state institutions to ensure a safe and meaningful transition into community living. There is no question that this is a frightening and emotional time for families. We want those living in JDC and their families to know that they are not alone. The Arc is committed to being their partner and offering resources to make this transition comfortable and productive.  We have helped people with the most severe disabilities successfully transition into a community setting, and they are eager to share their experiences and offer support. Yes, a safe transition for individuals who require 24-hour care has already been done in Illinois, and The Arc and its partners are committed to helping more people with disabilities live life in their communities with independence, equality and opportunity. 
Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois 

Our Opinion: Address JDC fears, make care transition 

We never expected the state’s transition from institutional to community-based care for the developmentally disabled to be easy. We do, however, believe it is the right thing to do.

On Monday, a media tour of the Jacksonville Developmental Center, which is scheduled for closure this fall, underscored just how emotionally fraught this process will be.

In January, Gov. Pat Quinn announced that JDC and Tinley Park Mental Health Center would be closed this year as part of an initiative called the Active Community Care Transition Plan. In his budget address last week, Quinn added Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford and Murray Developmental Center in Centralia to the list of facilities to close. While these announcements come at a time of unprecedented budget distress for the state, and will bring some savings, they primarily serve the more important goal of moving Illinois away from an antiquated system of caring for its most vulnerable citizens.

Many advocates for the developmentally disabled have been pushing for years for Illinois to ease its reliance on large institutions in favor of residential settings. Illinois now ranks third in the nation in the number of developmentally disabled people living in state institutions. Under the Quinn plan, individuals and their families would participate in designing programs appropriate to the individual. This would be a marked shift from the current system, in which individuals are matched to existing facilities.

 But as reporter Doug Finke noted in his story in Tuesday’s State Journal-Register, JDC has become a safe, secure home for its 185 residents. While community settings overwhelmingly have become the preferred housing and treatment modes across the country, disruptions of routine can be especially unsettling for the developmentally disabled. The prospect of a move into a new setting is unnerving for their families as well.

For some, Jacksonville has been a haven after bad experiences in non-institutional housing. Dr. David Iacono-Harris said his son, Jonathon, is one such example.

“He cannot live in a community setting,” he said. “He tried to do it twice. He has literally physically destroyed two group homes. He is not a candidate for the community.”

The challenge for the administration will be earning the trust of those like Iacono-Harris.

Mark Doyle, who is heading up the transition effort for the Department of Human Services, has been adamant that the current effort will bring about a new level of care suited to each individual. That includes individuals with serious medical and behavioral needs. “We can support anybody with almost any type of disability in the community if we are smart in how we arrange the supports and put the resources behind it,” Doyle told The State Journal-Register editorial board last month. 

For years, we have heard from advocates who have decried Illinois’ reliance on large institutions like JDC as outdated and counter to the mission of helping the disabled be as productive as possible. The national statistics on institutionalization simply are too compelling to ignore. We believe community care represents the future.

But the concerns voiced Monday in Jacksonville are legitimate and in some cases well-founded after past bad experiences. No resident should be moved into a community care setting until those concerns are addressed. That may not be easy, but it’s essential if Illinois is to successfully make a transition we believe is both necessary and long overdue. 

Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423
815-464-1832 (OFFICE)
815-464-1832 (CELL)