JACKSONVILLE — With less than six weeks left before its scheduled closing, the Jacksonville Developmental Center still has more than 100 residents who must find new homes if the facility is to close on time.
Some parents of those residents fear their children will be forced to relocate to community-based facilities that will not be able to care for them.
And while the gradual process of closing JDC has been going on since spring, some parents are still highly suspicious of the state’s actions.
“I don’t trust anything they say,” said David Iacono-Harris, whose son is a JDC resident.
Mostly, they don’t believe the state will be able to move the remaining residents by Oct. 31, the date the state has targeted for the facility to close.
The reason they don’t believe it can happen is the relatively small number of JDC residents who have been moved out so far.
In April, JDC was home to about 180 residents. According to figures Iacono-Harris said were provided to him by the state, t 132 residents remain, meaning fewer than 50 were moved to new homes in the last five months. The state will have to move nearly three times that many in less than six weeks to meet the closure deadline.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do with 132 people in a little over a month,” he said. “If they are true to their word and are going to do it in a somewhat humane way, they can’t.”
The Department of Human Services said there remain 147 JDC residents, although 16 of them are currently on visits to their potential new homes.
“Our focus remains on making certain all residents are placed in good homes,” said DHS spokeswoman Kayce Ataiyero. “Closure date is October 31.”
Or maybe not. Tony Paulauski, executive director of ARC of Illinois, said he had a briefing by DHS officials late last week.
“I think there is no doubt, at least from our perspective, that it’s going to take a little bit longer to close Jacksonville, but it is going to close,” Paulauski said. “The reason it is taking longer is because the state is doing the right thing in terms of making sure that everybody has a person-centered plan. It takes time to put that together.”
Paulauski said new homes have been identified for all but 20 to 30 people.
“That selection process is pretty much complete now,” he said.
Iacono-Harris has attended meetings of an oversight committee formed last summer to monitor activities surrounding JDC’s closure. He said numbers provided to the committee showed that two people who were moved out of JDC to community settings have been returned to state facilities.
Some parents of JDC residents who believe their children can’t adapt to anything other than a state-run facility.
“I have an autistic son who is 28 years old, but he’s more like a 5-year-old,” said J. Patrick Wayne Sr. “He needs to be in another facility like Jacksonville. I tried a (community) home with (my son), and he lasted eight days.”
His son bites, other people and himself, Wayne said, but the number of incidents dropped significantly after his son went to JDC. Wayne said the only options being offered to his son are an intermediate-care facility or a community-integrated living arrangement.
“I’m not going to sign the paperwork to send him to a CILA,” he said. “We’ve pretty much decided the only way we’re going to keep him safe is another (state facility).”
Ataiyero said the department prefers to transfer residents to a community setting, but “if families are interested in having their family member transferred to a state facility, we will discuss that with them.”
“The residents of JDC are there for a reason,” Iacono-Harris said. “Many of them can’t really make it well in a community setting. They need extra staff that they aren’t going to have in these community settings.”
Ernie Jones, president of Friends of JDC, said his son has a behavior that causes him to swallow things. While at the old Lincoln Developmental Center, his son swallowed some bolts that resulted in emergency surgery to remove part of his intestines.
“He has to be watched 24-7 to make sure he doesn’t put anything in his mouth,” Jones said. “We had him in a community home years and years ago. It didn’t work out.”
Jones was among a group of JDC parents who received certified letters from DHS giving them until Sept. 17 to inform the department where they would like their children relocated. If Jones didn’t indicate a preference, DHS said it would take steps to move his son to an intermediate-care facility.
“They can’t do that,” Jones said. “I wrote back informing them of that. I told them before they do this, I have to be notified and I should be there at the meeting. I haven’t heard back.”
Iacono-Harris described the DHS letter as “very threatening.”
He and other parents had balked at allowing an outside company hired by DHS to evaluate their children.
“The reason we didn’t let anyone know about our preferences is that no one had officially contacted us,” he said. “We were told earlier that those who refused the assessments would be put at the end of the line. We were waiting to hear from them. We were never contacted.”
Jones said he’s looked at other locations for his son. He said he liked one place in Springfield, but it turned him down after reviewing his son’s record.
“They said they don’t have the staff to help him,” Jones said.
His worry is that his son will be moved someplace that won’t be able to handle him.
“That’s the concern we have now,” Jones said. “If he doesn’t work out in a community home, can he come back to another (state facility)?”
Paulauski said the fact that one or two former JDC residents had to be returned to a state facility doesn’t show that the transition plan is flawed.
“What it shows me is the state is wise enough to know that if there is a problem, you need to reboot, get the person back, look at what went wrong and then move forward,” he said.
Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527.