By Hilary Russell
Now that a new governor is in office, some advocates for the developmentally disabled hope that the closure of the William A. Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park, a Chicago suburb, will happen as soon as possible.
Representatives from several advocacy and disability groups delivered a petition today to Gov. Pat Quinn containing 1,500 signatures and a report detailing recent incidents of abuse and death at Howe. Advocates urged his support and immediate action to close the facility. See background here.
Five more people have died at Howe since the Illinois Department of Human Services announced a decision to close the facility in September 2008. That brings the total to 29 people who have died in the past 3 1/2 years.
“This is a facility that’s broken. It’s not going to be fixed,” Zena Naiditch, chief executive officer of Equip for Equality, said at a Statehouse news conference today. “We’re wasting almost $80 million a year to keep this place operating, and every month, or two or three that we keep Howe open, we’re gonna have another couple of deaths. So it’s critical that this happen in a timely manner.”
Almost two years after the federal government decertified the facility because it failed to meet minimum standards, Howe has remained open. Decertification results in a loss of federal funding, but the state has picked up the rest of the tab.
One advocate urged his peers to demand humane living conditions for people living in institutions, citing the right to be treated with respect and compassion despite “maintaining some unique challenges.”
Lester Pritchard, chief executive officer of the grassroots organization Campaign for Real Choice, asked people to imagine being forced to live in an institution where they don’t feel safe and where they completely depend other people, regardless of whether they feel comfortable with them.
“We call on the governor to stop this torment at Howe,” said Pritchard, who relied on his wife to “revoice” for him when he spoke. “To put politics aside and return to his activists roots. Close this facility and allow these people to move to a safer living environment.”
But not everyone, including those directly involved in those types of facilities, believe closing the homes is the right thing to do.
Some families and even residents have expressed their opposition to such a move, citing fears about how and where the residents would live. Employees, too, have expressed opposition, saying hundreds will lose their jobs if the state closes the facility this summer.
The Department of Human Services operates eight other developmental centers. Each of these facilities is responsible for caring for people with developmental disabilities and major behavioral and or medical needs.
Howe has the most reported deaths of any state operated facility in Illinois.