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Lawmakers still skeptical of Quinn facilities-closure plan

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SPRINGFIELD — Many Illinois lawmakers say they are still not convinced that Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close centers for people with mental health and developmental disabilities is a good plan.

By Anthony Brino

SPRINGFIELD — Many Illinois lawmakers say they are still not convinced that Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close centers for people with mental health and developmental disabilities is a good plan.

The Legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a group of state representatives and state senators who play a role in deciding which state facilities will close, on Tuesday discussed the future of both the Jacksonville Developmental Center and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.

Quinn wants to close the state-run institutions to save money.

Quinn spokeswoman Brie Callahan said the Jacksonville facility costs the state $27.9 million a year to run.

"After accounting for state costs under community care, Illinois will realize approximately $11.7 million per year in savings," Callahan said.

Closing Tinley Park would save the state about $8 million a year, Callahan said.

Legislators at the hearing said they are concerned about the welfare of patients at the two facilities.

And they said they want to see how, exactly, Quinn will pull off the the transition.

"Here is the problem you have with this administration — it's all or nothing," said state Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville Center is in Watson's legislative district, and is one of the major employers in that city.

Sharon Pfieffer, from Cantrall, is the mother of 49-year-old Kathy Lowe, a resident of the Jacksonville Center whose life depends on a feeding tube and round-the-clock nursing care.

Pfieffer was one of several parents of disabled children who came to Tuesday's hearing hoping to testify against the closure, but she never got the chance because of time constraints.

Pfieffer said she's skeptical about the quality of care her daughter would receive in a community setting.

"I don't want my daughter being cared for by people who aren't certified and are making $9-an-hour," Pfieffer said.

The governor's proposal would close the doors at the Jacksonville facility by October. But some lawmakers contend this is too hasty an approach.

"We need to have a comprehensive plan for the individuals and moving them out of the institutions," said state Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, co-chair of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or COGFA. She voted to keep the Jacksonville Developmental Center open last fall.

The Tinley Park facility is slated to close by July.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, said he is concerned that the administration is signaling an interest in eliminating institutional housing for the developmentally disabled without showing how the state would transition to community-based housing or in-home care.

"Is the long-term goal to eliminate institutional housing? I don't think this issue is going to be resolved for awhile," Tryon said.

State Rep. Al Riley, D-Hazel Crest, is more direct.

"If the move is to lessen the reliance on state facilities, let's take time to do it. You can't do that in six months," Riley said.

But waiting longer will only increase the costs at a time when Illinois is dealing with $4.5 billion in unpaid bills and pressure to cut $2 billion from the state's Medicaid budget.

Mark Doyle, a disability care consultant who the governor asked to work with the Illinois Department of Human Services, said it costs $200,000 annually for each patient living at the Jacksonville Developmental Center. He said it would cost $84,000 to care for each of those patients in a community care setting.

There are 180 patients at the Jacksonville facility.

"Community settings have proven to be an excellent way to care for the disabled," said Don Moss, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois, a nonprofit that offers services to and advocates for disabled children and people.

State Sen. Jeffery Schoenberg, D-Evanston, said he wants to know if the state can find more savings by transitioning people to community care.

"We have no idea how much (the transitions are) going to cost in the next several years. We need to see a multi-year budget" said Schoenberg.

Jacksonville Developmental Center employs about 400 people, most of them members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which has been lobbying against closure.

The fact that the center supports a large chunk of the area's economy and that it paves the way for closures of other state facilities has driven at least part of the debate over the governor's plan.

"The state has been a partner with Jacksonville for 150 years," said Watson, whose district includes Jacksonville. "If a corporation pulled out after being in the community for 150 years, the Quinn administration would go crazy on them."

But the governor contends the state is doing what is best for the patients.

"Illinois lags behind the rest of the nation when it comes to community care," said Callahan, Quinn's spokeswoman. "In the community, we can provide care that matches each person's unique needs, and, in addition, there are federal and state obligations that require us to make more use of community care."

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