The State Journal Register makes some excellent points in its editorial today but it is my understanding that the family organizations, the union and other advocates will be at the table involved in the closing of State Operated Developmental Centers after the Governor makes his decision on which centers will close. This was the process utilized in the Howe closure and a similar process is planned. The objective now is that the transition plan for persons leaving the centers will be person-centered and fully based upon their individual needs. In this process there is every reason to believe that the person can be relocated close to family and friends if that is their choice.
Our Opinion: Don’t rush into state facilities decision
We are firmly on record advocating that Illinois move away from its reliance on large institutions to house the developmentally disabled.
Housing people with developmental disabilities in large facilities is an antiquated, expensive and, most importantly, ineffective way of allowing the disabled to live the fullest and most productive lives possible. By and large, advocates for the developmentally disabled favor providing residential care in residential settings — group homes with six or fewer residents supervised by a properly trained staff.
That’s not possible in all cases, of course. Some people suffer from disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. But with eight institutions operating statewide, Illinois operates with a severe imbalance that relies far too heavily on the institutional model. A 2011 study by the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities at the University of Colorado placed Illinois third in the nation in the number of people housed in institutional settings. California, New York and Florida, all more populous than Illinois by generous margins, had fewer developmentally disabled people in institutions than Illinois. Ten states and the District of Columbia no longer even have state-run institutions, the study notes.
The Arc of Illinois, an advocacy group that includes some 60 agencies that serve the developmentally disabled and their families, estimates it costs six times as much to house a person in an institution than as in a group home setting. But the $190,000 annual cost for institutional care comes with an additional price: Those housed in institutions largely learn institutional life. Without the stimulus of interaction in the community, advocates say, their development is further stunted.
We can’t honestly advocate for a movement away from institutions without acknowledging that Jacksonville Developmental Center could be one of the institutions closed in that effort. No community ever wants to lose jobs and the economic activity attendant to any state facility, be it a prison, health-care center or regional agency office.
What we can and do advocate for is a thorough and fair evaluation of all state facilities that places the priorities of the residents and their families before financial concerns.
Just as the federal government goes to great lengths to eliminate political influence in closing military bases, so must the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn isolate itself from politics in making any decisions about the eight centers for the developmentally disabled that now operate in Illinois.
Neither of those criteria can be met if all concerned parties are not allowed into the discussion. That includes those who represent the residents and families of residents for whom life in a residential group home is not a viable possibility.
“Some of them absolutely require 24-hour care, which is not available in the community,” said Rita Burke, president of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled. “This is not a plan. This is a move out of desperation and political expediency.” Burke says her side has been excluded from the process.
Regardless of the end decision, this process must not be exclusive. One advantage to having so many institutions is it provides families proximity to their loved ones. Those whose loved ones can’t live in group homes should not suffer undue hardship as the state makes this transition. The state’s finances may be dire, but this is too important a decision to rush for the sake of savings.