By Ashley Griffin
Leaders in Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration appeared before the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability on Tuesday to update legislators on a plan to close two state institutions.
COGFA members took Quinn’s representatives to task over the lack of details in the administration's plan to close Tinley Park Mental Health Center and Jacksonville Developmental Center.
After receiving a new120-page proposal just hours before the hearing, some lawmakers were left puzzled.
“It’s hard for us to comment on anything when we just received a 120-page document,” said Rep. Patti Bellock, a Republican from Hinsdale and co-chair of COGFA. Members said they did not get the plan until last night, and some said they had not seen it before this morning’s hearing.
“I voted in the fall in favor of the closure, but I have to say I don’t feel comfortable on the details you provided, we only receive them at the end of the business day yesterday. Everybody would like to see it to ask better questions,” Sen. Jeffery Schoenberg, a Democrat from Evanston, said during today’s hearing.
Committee members also called for more information from the working group that helped Quinn choose the facilities that are scheduled for closure and urged the governor to hand over a more comprehensive report from the group's meetings.
Rep. Al Riley, a Democrat from Hazel Crest, said that the original closure plan was done hastily.
“You are much like an advocate. I’m a state rep and my responsibilities are broad,” Riley said to representatives from the Department of Human Services (DHS). “Your policies are affecting a lot of people and a lot of different entities and it is my responsibility to find that [information] out.”
But the biggest concern for some lawmakers was how much would the plan actually cost.
Schoenberg said the proposal to transition patients from institutions to community care settings contained no information on what the move would cost and how it would be paid for. Without the info, he said it “has the potential to be a false promise” to patients and families. For more on the plan to transition from institutional to community care, See Illinois Issues February 2012.
“One issues is this: cost. The administration will say that cost is but one factor, that they are really looking for patients' care, but cost is a factor. Cost is a factor, and we can’t really agree on what the numbers are because to implement their plan, it's going to cost money,” Riley said..
But according to those working on the proposed closures, the plan is progressing well.
“Our goal is to help make sure that the General Assembly is as informed and aware of what we are doing at all of these levels as possible,” said Michael Gelder, a senior health policy adviser to Quinn. “We are proud of the effort that we are taking to implement our plan.”
DHS is reaching out to mental health providers in the Chicago area to find treatment for those who would have gone to the Tinley Park Facility, said Debra Ferguson, senior deputy in chief of clinical operations for the Division of Mental Health at the department. She said many who end up at Tinley Park also need addiction treatment services, which are available in community settings.
Kevin Casey, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities at DHS, says a comprehensive plan must be made for every resident at the Jacksonville Facility to address specific needs before it closes. He said when people are shoehorned into existing openings in the community, the placements often fail.
Despite the reservations of some lawmakers, others continue to support of the plan.
“To me, it still continues to make great sense to move folks into the community … and to redirect that money into community based services,” said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Des Plaines who also voted in favor of closing both facilities last fall.
“From a policy-maker’s perspective, I personally am less concerned about the details and more concerned about the fact that if we don’t make this choice, then we have to make other hard choices. And this to me should be one of the choices we’re making.”
According to Bellock, COGFA hearings near both facilities will be scheduled in the coming weeks. “This will give us some time to review, and we’ll set a date within the next few days.”