SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn's push to overhaul care for people with mental illnesses and disabilities collided Tuesday with safety concerns, money worries and maybe a bit of wounded pride as lawmakers reviewed plans to close two state institutions.
Lawmakers peppered Quinn aides with questions about whether people can safely be moved to community care, such as group homes. They repeatedly pushed for details on what the switch would cost, now and over the long term, and wondered why the Democratic governor hasn't provided more information at a time when budget concerns are a top priority.
Several members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability also noted Quinn is moving forward just three months after the panel recommended against closing the facilities, a mental hospital in Tinley Park and a developmental center in Jacksonville.
"It seems like we're back shooting from the hip again," said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield.
The panel's co-chairman, Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, said Quinn could wind up making "a false promise" to people who depend on the state if he doesn't produce a plan to pay for overhauling care.
"Everything has a dollar value tied to it, and we have no idea how much that is going to cost over the next several years," said Schoenberg, D-Evanston.
Quinn's aides promised more detail after the governor presents his state budget proposal on Feb. 22.
For now, they repeatedly reassured lawmakers that it costs much less to care for mentally ill and disabled people in the community than in big institutions. And they said it can be done safely no matter how much specialized care a person needs.
"I didn't get in this business to see people go to bad places to live," said Kevin Casey, head of developmental disabilities for the state Department of Human Services. "I am not going to preside over a process that puts people at risk. I won't do that."
Quinn plans a gradual shift away from institutions. People living in state care would be given new homes — sometimes by themselves with care from experts, sometimes in small group homes, maybe even with their families.
As people move out, state facilities will be closed.
The first to go, under his plan, are Jacksonville Developmental Center and Tinley Park Mental Health Center. The Jacksonville center, parts of which were built in the 1850s, employs 379 people to care for 185 residents. The Tinley Park hospital has 175 staff who care for a few dozen patients at a time but about 1,900 people over the course of a year.
Advocates for disabled people generally support moving to community care, saying it improves quality of life and makes the disabled more independent. About a dozen states have completely done away with large institutions.
"I've been waiting my entire career for something like this to happen in Illinois," said Tony Paulauski, executive director of the Arc of Illinois. "It is the right thing to do."
But the families of some Jacksonville residents are worried.
Sharon Pfeiffer of Cantrall said her daughter, 49-year-old Kathy Lowe, needs constant, skilled nursing care. She gets nourishment from a feeding tube 20 hours a day, cannot move on her own and is in danger of choking. Pfeiffer doubts her daughter could get that care outside Jacksonville, which has been her home since childhood.
"I'm not against community homes for the right people," Pfeiffer said. "When my daughter is being basically forced into community placement, then I'm opposed."
The legislative commission, which can make a recommendation to the governor but cannot block his efforts to close the facilities plans further hearings in Jacksonville and Tinley Park.
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