By Benjamin Yount
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Advocates and lawmakers could support Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) plan to close five mental health and developmental disability centers, but only if he does it properly.
Sept. 8, Quinn proposed closing the Tinley Park in Tinley Park; the H. Douglas Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford; the Chester Mental Health Center in Chester; the Jack Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon; and the Jacksonville Developmental Center in Jacksonville.
The governor said he has to “manage the budget” and “tough choices have to be made.”
Tony Paulauski, executive director at ARC of Illinois, a group that tries to move people with disabilities into community care, said closing the doors at the Mabley Center or at the Jacksonville Developmental Center would be acceptable if the residents could be transitioned to smaller settings and more focused care.
“The smaller the housing situation, the (better) the quality of life for the people,” Paulauski said. “Because (caregivers) are really focusing on the people who are residing there.”
ARC is one of Illinois’ largest advocates for those with disabilities, working with caregivers and lawmakers.
But Paulauski said closing a residential center for those with developmental disabilities will not be quick, easy or cheap.
“It’s going to cost money in the community to provide those services and resources,” Paulauski said. “There are going to be some savings, and actually those savings should then be redirected so that more people can live in the community.”
Paulauski said he doesn’t know how much could be saved, in part, because of the unknowns about where the residents would go.
State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said lawmakers who deal with social service issues as well as social service providers agree that local, community-based care is best.
“A lot of the advocates want some of these closures,” Bellock said. “But, they want closures in a responsible manner and going into community settings.”
Many of Illinois’ residential facilities are large and can house hundreds of people. Community care focuses on just a handful of people, and their needs, in a smaller setting.
Bellock, who helped write the 2012 state budget for human services, said much of her work in the spring focused on how best to take care of the people who need care the most.
“All the Democrats and Republicans worked together. Our No. 1 mission was to protect the services for the developmentally disabled, the blind, the aged, and the mentally ill,” Bellock said.
However, the community-care model is facing serious problems.
Illinois is broke. The state, despite a tax increase in January, is drowning under a $3.8 billion backlog of unpaid bills. The state owes human service providers hundreds of millions of dollars. Many community-based providers have to wait 162 days to be paid for services rendered.
State Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Oak Forrest, said the state owes the local community-care provider in her district, Grand Prairie Services, $2 million.
“They have trouble making payroll. They’ve borrowed all they can,” said Crotty, who added that she’s had to help Grand Prairie get money from the state to keep the doors open.
Crotty is quick to say the other problem with a 100 percent community-care model is there are simply too many people and not enough care providers. Illinois has a community service waiting list that tops 10,000 people.
“I know for a fact that the advocates and service providers can’t take them all,” said Crotty. “… You can’t cherry pick when a facility closes.”
The Tinley Park Mental Health Center, which provides acute mental care for about 75 patients, is in Crotty’s district. The state closed neighboring Howe Developmental Center last year after questions of cost and subpar care arose and it lost its Medicaid certification.
Paulauski said Illinois will need to move with the rest of the country. Indiana, Michigan, Vermont and seven other states, Paulauski said, do not have any state-run, residential facilities for people with disabilities.
“This is nothing new, in Illinois or across the nation,” said Paulauski.
Paulauski said community care is working well in other states. He said he’s willing to try it here in Illinois.