SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Gov. Pat Quinn is launching a major push to move mentally ill and disabled people out of institutions and into communities. That means big changes for hundreds of people in state care, economic blows to the towns where facilities will be closed and turmoil for the government employees losing their jobs.
Most advocates for the disabled back the plan but wonder whether sick or disabled people will get the necessary care in group homes or living with their families. Others wonder why the Jacksonville Developmental Center and the Tinley Park Mental Center are first on the list to close.
Here’s a look at some of the issues and the facts behind them:
The administration says the Jacksonville and Tinley Park facilities were the first picked for closure because they scored worst in rankings based on objective criteria like physical condition, difficulties in recruiting staff and economic impact on the surrounding communities.
You’ll have to take Quinn’s word for that, however. He won’t release those rankings, so there’s no way to tell how Jacksonville compared to similar facilities in Anna or Chester, or how Tinley Park matched up against other mental hospitals.
The governor is releasing the final scores for the two facilities, but knowing that Jacksonville was rated a 3 on staff recruitment doesn’t allow for comparisons to other institutions. Quinn isn’t releasing any of the data his staff used to calculate the scores, making it impossible to review the work and check for potential errors.
Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, was one of four lawmakers asked to give the administration input on the criteria for closure. He complains that he was denied information about how the administration ranked the facilities and got the sense that Quinn’s team made its decision and then adjusted the criteria to fit.
“ON THE BACKS”
Some critics accuse Quinn of trying to balance the state budget on the backs of disabled people. If Quinn is doing this to balance the budget, he’s going to be sorely disappointed.
His aides say the goal is to improve people’s lives, not save money. They predict closing the Jacksonville and Tinley Park facilities will save about $20 million, but state government needs to find billions of dollars to meet next year’s obligations and pay off old bills.
Critics may object to closing the facilities and cutting jobs for some 550 people but the decision doesn’t dump all the state’s financial problems into the laps of the patients and employees.
The administration says caring for someone with developmental disabilities in an institution costs between $150,000 and $210,000 a year. Caring for that person in a community setting will cost from $45,000 to $84,000 a year, according to administration estimates.
The administration’s predictions of lower costs in community settings are challenged by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union said the lower figure does not include the medical care delivered to people when they live in institutions, a claim that Quinn’s office did not immediately respond to.
Tony Paulauski, executive director of the advocacy group Arc of Illinois, said developmentally disabled people living in the community can get the same level of care, 24 hours a day, that they get in institutions. He described Quinn’s plan as thoughtful and potentially a model for other states.
“THESE ARE NOT CATTLE”
The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled claims Quinn would thrust institutionalized people into potentially unsafe new living arrangements.
“These are not cattle,” said Rita Burke, president of the group, which is made up of leaders from the family associations at the various institutions.
Quinn’s team insists the disabled people and their families will make the ultimate decisions on living arrangements. They will work with experts to determine the best option. It could even be staying in an institution, although not the one in Jacksonville that’s being closed.
Officials acknowledge Illinois does not have community slots for all people with developmental disabilities who need them. But they say that’s true whenever a state moves away from institutional care first the states decide to emphasize community care, then they work with providers to create the slots and finally people move into their new homes.
Moving to community care is backed by most advocates for the disabled. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have completely done away with institutions for people with mental disabilities.
A shift to community care is also the law, thanks to various court rulings and lawsuit settlements, and it’s the policy that Illinois lawmakers overwhelmingly endorsed last summer.
REWIND: Sometimes quotes are just too good to be true. Last week, Quinn used two different quotations that may not be accurate.
At an appearance along the Mississippi River, Quinn said that Mark Twain once remarked that “whiskey is for drinking, and water is worth fighting for.” A phrase like that is often attributed to Twain, but the website http://www.twainquotes.com says the quote “should not be regarded as authentic.” A former state archivist in Nevada looked into it and found “absolutely no reliable evidence” Twain uttered those words.
Quinn also used a favorite saying that he attributes to Ronald Reagan: “It’s amazing what human beings can accomplish when no one worries about who gets the credit.” Reagan may have said it, but President Harry Truman, basketball coach John Wooden and others said it first.
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