A couple of days ago I mentioned I had a meeting with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board to talk about closing state institutions and investing in community services.
We hit a home run!  Look at this. 
Please share with other advocates.

Moving to community care

State-run centers for developmentally disabled finally on the way out

September 30, 2011
We suspect Gov. Pat Quinnisn’t entirely serious about his threat to shut down seven state facilities and lay off 1,900 workers to close what he says is a $313 million budget gap. The governor may be trying to goad lawmakers into borrowing more money to stave off these cuts.

But if he follows through on at least some of these moves, he will make genuine, humane progress on behalf of some vulnerable citizens.

The governor’s plans would launch an overdue revamp of the state program serving the developmentally disabled — people with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other challenges.

Illinois’ treatment of the developmentally disabled lags way behind the times. Other states have proved convincingly that in most cases, institutionalizing people in big government-run facilities hurts everyone concerned and wastes money. Community-based organizations offer small neighborhood group homes and other varied options for care and generally provide better results at a much lower cost.

Up to now, vested interests in state government have thwarted progress toward community care, despite a history of problems with the state institutions. A scandal that brought to light abusive treatment and padded staffing costs at the Howe Developmental Center in southwest suburban Tinley Park eventually led to that facility closing last year. Yet the other eight centers operated by the state have shown remarkable staying power, at an annual cost of roughly $300 million.

Quinn has called for shutting down two of the eight centers. That’s a good beginning point, especially since it coincides with a plan to reduce the population at the remaining centers.

The governor has started to lay the groundwork for a responsible transition that takes into account the needs of families, guardians and residents, while phasing out an obsolete system.

One milestone: Quinn recently settled the last of three long-standing lawsuits aimed at forcing state-funded providers to offer less-restrictive options for care. The governor also has sought input from advocates for the disabled about how to manage the state and federal money available for a transition, establish a reasonable timetable and arrange for follow-up monitoring.

Shutting down these centers is no simple matter. It requires extensive documentation, public hearings and negotiations with union workers who have angrily denounced the governor’s plan. No one would be surprised if AFSCMEwere to seek arbitration or file suit in an effort to preserve the status quo and the entrenched union jobs that go with it.

Remember, during his election campaign last year, Quinn made a promise to AFSCME that the state wouldn’t close any institutions or lay off workers through June 2012. The governor says he doesn’t have to abide by that deal because the legislature didn’t give him enough money to pay for the institutions and the jobs through June.

Some of these institutions need to close, and as quickly as it is safe to do so. The paramount consideration should be the welfare of the residents now in state care. They’re a fragile group, and those with challenging behaviors and intensive medical needs should be treated with caution and sensitivity. We believe the community system has the wherewithal not only to serve those now housed in state institutions, but to serve them better. Still, it’s critically important to ensure that every placement is appropriate, and not force any that aren’t.

State employees of the centers could make the process easier. Staff could support the idea of moving, help match residents with the best possible community placement options and work diligently to assist in the transition.

We hope that happens. If not, this change will be more painful and disruptive than it needs to be. Let’s make a swift, smooth transition that provides residents with new homes that offer superior living arrangements and opportunities for personal growth. It’s time.

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune 

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)