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Panel OKs closure of home for disabled

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

BOLINGBROOK (AP) – The state will work to find new homes for residents at a central Illinois institution for the developmentally disabled after a state panel agreed Tuesday to allow Gov. Pat Quinn to close it for good, part of a sweeping plan to change the way such residents are cared for and to save tens of millions of dollars a year.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board voted 6-1 to allow the Department of Human Services to close the Jacksonville Developmental Center, which has provided a home for developmentally disabled adults for more than 100 years. Most will be moved into small group homes or apartments staffed with caregivers, which many advocates say allows them to live more productive and satisfying lives.

The closure had been set for Wednesday, but it was delayed until Nov. 21.

“What we’ve learned over the past 25 years is that people do so much better in community options when they’re involved close to their families and friends. When they’re hidden away in state institutions, it’s the most expensive, least productive ... outcomes,” said Tony Paulauski, executive director of the advocacy group The Arc of Illinois.

He said some people have lived at the Jacksonville facility for decades, though it was not intended as a permanent home.

But some of the more than two dozen people who testified at Tuesday’s hearing – including parents, the facility’s director and Jacksonville’s mayor – asked the panel to block the closure, saying not every developmentally disabled person is able to leave the institutional setting because of health or behavioral issues, and many families fear they will have to travel long distances to visit their loved ones because of a dearth of housing options in central Illinois.

Rosetta and Dan Milligan of Springfield said their son is living in the Jacksonville center after failed attempts at other housing arrangements, including one group home where he fell from a third-story window. So far, they said, the only group home willing to accept him is in the Chicago suburb of Cicero, about 200 miles from their home.

“Since I have so few to choose from, what if something wouldn’t work out? Then where would he go?” Rosetta Milligan said.

David Iacono-Hwarris said his son, Jonathan, has been institutionalized for more than 30 years – the past nine in Jacksonville – because of severe behavioral problems that sometimes put others in danger.

“He needs institutional care,” Iacono-Harris said, adding that he fears for his son’s life.

But others testified that most developmentally disabled residents, including those with the most severe behavior problems, adapt well to community-based living, where they’re able to be more independent and make more friends.

“All people have the same rights and opportunities as all other citizens,” said Margaret Harkness of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, which is part of state government. “The current system is broken.”

The Quinn administration has said families that absolutely reject community care can move a disabled resident to one of the remaining state institutions.

Paulauski said Illinois has almost 2,000 developmentally disabled residents in institutions, among the most in the nation. Most other states have moved toward community care, including 14 that have eliminated institutions altogether.

State officials say the closure of Jacksonville and, eventually, other state institutions will help satisfy terms of legal settlements in which the state agreed to move the developmentally disabled into more independent settings. They also say closing Jacksonville will save almost $20 million a year because it was one of the oldest and most expensive-to-operate facilities.

State officials said the state spends $150,000 to $210,000 per year for each person housed in a state facility, compared to $45,000 to $84,000 for those in community care.

The state proposed to close four of eight institutions for the developmentally disabled within the next few years, starting with Jacksonville Developmental Center and the Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

Quinn also has proposed the closure of several state-run institutions for the mentally ill, including the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford, which will close Thursday morning. An Illinois circuit judge on Tuesday denied a nurses union request to delay the closure, saying it didn’t show good cause to keep it open.

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