By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn today announced plans to close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center and the Jacksonville Developmental Center as part of a larger proposal to close several state institutions.
Quinn previously proposed the closure of seven state facilities because he said there was not enough money in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget to keep them open. Lawmakers worked out a budget deal in November to keep the institutions open through the end of FY 2012, but Quinn said he planned to move ahead with closures after the end of the fiscal year.
Under the plan, 600 of the about 2,000 people with developmental disabilities currently in state institutions would be moved into community care settings over the next two and a half years, up to four state centers for the developmentally disabled would be closed and two state mental health centers would also be shuttered.
“My administration is committed to increasing community care options and improving the quality of life for people with developmental disabilities and mental health conditions,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a prepared statement. “The approach we are taking will allow for the safe transition of care for some of our most vulnerable citizens to community care settings. I want to thank the members of the public, the General Assembly and advocates who worked with my administration to meet this challenge and help our state move forward.”
Under the governor’s proposal, the Tinley Park Mental Health Center would shut down in July, and the Jacksonville Developmental Center would close in October.
The Tinley Park Center primarily serves so-called acute care patients, who typically stay between 24 hours to 21 days. The administration plans to halt admissions at Tinley in time for all patients to complete treatment before the closure, but no date has been chosen yet. “The [Department of Mental Health], however, is actively securing additional beds at community providers and hospitals in the area surrounding Tinley Park [Mental Health Center] to ensure that services in the area are not interrupted,” said a summary of the plan issued by Quinn’s office.
According to the governor’s office, several factors were weighed when considering which facilities to close, including the age of the facility, the amount of deferred maintenance and repairs, the level and quality of care and the economic impact.
But Rep. Jim Watson, a Republican from Jacksonville, said that he thinks administration officials knew what facilities they wanted to close and created the rubric to fit those institutions. “It was pretty obvious that they developed criteria to get the outcome they wanted.” Watson was part of a working group that took up the issue of which facilities should be on the chopping block. “I think that they picked facilities that were largely downstate geographically where he did not fare well and then picked them in mainly Republican districts.”
Watson noted that Tinley Park us in northern Illinois, but he said it made the list because Quinn has been considering closing it for a while. Both of the facilities announced today were also on the list for closure under the governor’s previous plan.
Unions representing the workers and families of residents at the state’s developmental center say Quinn has not included them in talks over closure decisions. Watson said he thinks that Quinn is listening to advocates on just one side of the issue. “As a governor, don’t you have to be responsive to both sides of the issue and the entire state?” he asked. Watson was critical of Quinn for being in Washington, D.C., when the word came down about planned facility closures today. “I think it’s reflective [of his mindset on the issue] that the governor today is in [Washington,] D.C., when he makes an announcement that affects the lives of thousands of Illinoisans.”
Union officials complained earlier this week about working group meetings that were held outside of the public view and said Quinn was moving forward without their input. “Mental health and developmental centers provide essential health care services in communities across Illinois. When these facilities are threatened, what’s at stake is life or death for men and women who need intensive developmental services or treatment in mental health crisis and have nowhere else to go. The closure push appears based on politics and budget considerations, not what’s best for individuals, families and communities. It’s grossly irresponsible to plot to close these facilities behind closed doors,” Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said in a written statement.
“The governor’s office has not reached out to us at all,” said Rita Burke, president of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, which represents parent organizations from the state facilities. “My concern about these particular people making decisions that are monumental in meaning in scope for families is that I don’t believe that they are intimately knowledgeable about the facilities or about the residents.” She said that the quota-driven nature of the plan could force people into the community against their will or into situations that do not provide an appropriate level of care.
Advocates for delivering care in smaller settings argue that receiving services in one’s home or a home-like setting with fewer residents allows developmentally disabled adults more freedom, flexibility and the ability to be a part of their community through activities, such as holding a job or volunteering. “Community-based care is about quality of life,” Kevin Casey, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said in a prepared statement. “Through this careful, deliberate process, Illinois will improve quality of life for hundreds of people with developmental disabilities, while realizing significant savings through the closure of a costly state facility.” The Department of Human Services said it would conduct thorough assessments, so residents of facilities would be matched with the services they need when they are outside of institutions. The plan is to move 20 residents per month out of institutional care.
Supporters also highlight the potential cost savings that could come from closing facilities and serving those with developmental disabilities and mental health needs in community settings. According to the Department of Human Services, operations at the Jacksonville Developmental Center cost about $29.7 million annually. Under Quinn’s plan, the state would invest about $16.2 million in community care and save about $11.7 million. Tinley Park Mental Health Center has an annual operating cost of about $20.6 million. The state would invest $9.8 million in community mental health programs and save about $8.1 million.
But Watson said that losing the economic stimulus that the facilities provide to the local communities is not worth savings that seem somewhat meager when compared with the overall state budget. “Is this financial or is this philosophical?” he asked.
“If the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity could make an investment of $12 million and get an economic impact of $47 million, they would do it in a heartbeat,” Watson said of the plan to close the facility in Jacksonville.
For more on the state's shift away from institutional care, see the upcoming February issue of Illinois Issues.