In a late Wednesday press release regarding his decision to close the Warren G. Murray Center in Centralia, Gov. Pat Quinn asserted his commitment to the decision, calling it a “historic time for Illinois.”
“This is a historic time for Illinois as we continue our commitment to change the status quo and improve life for people with disabilities and mental health challenges in Illinois,” Quinn said. “Moving from outdated institutions to community care is improving Illinois’ quality of care and allowing people to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.”
Response to his statements, however, were brisk and unanimous, that the decision to shutter the Murray Center is flawed and is not in the best interests of all Murray residents.
“What he’s [Quinn] doing is taking away the rights of the developmentally disabled,” says Monica Sobczyk, a member of the Murray Parents Association and the sister and guardian of two Murray residents. “He continues to make statements about a facility that he has never ever seen. I believe he is being misguided by his “experts” and by ARC.”
Quinn’s statements Wednesday were made during a “Going Home” rally, hosted by several disability advocacy groups including ARC, that despite the pleadings of guardians, have pushed for years to have state operated facilities closed.
Sobczyk said the Governor should remind the public that the State and the Department of Human Services are being sued in federal court regarding the planned closure of the Murray Center, with civil rights violations against the residents among the numerous claims.
Quinn says in his press release that the planned closure is “part of his agenda to ensure all people have the opportunity to follow their dreams and reach their full potential.” But others quickly noted that while some Murray residents could transition into community care, many cannot.
“Maybe some residents will be better off in community care, but there are also some who will be a lot worse off,” commented Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville). “I think he [Quinn] believes he’s doing what is best for the residents, but I know an awful lot of people, parents and guardians included, who disagree with him wholeheartedly.”
Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) pointed out that the residents at Murray Center who people are fighting to protect are much more vulnerable than those being depicted by closure proponents.
“These are not the same level of disabilities. And for him to stand up and make these statements, like he wants a gold star – an award – for doing the wrong thing, well it’s embarrassing,” McCarter said of the Governor. “I was shocked to see his statements.”
Quinn claims his push toward community care will reduce the number of “outdated, expensive institutions,” saying the average cost for Murray Center is $239,000 per year per resident, while the average cost for a Murray resident living in the community is estimated at $120,000 per year.
“They continue to throw out figures, but they never compare apples to apples and their figures continue to change,” says Sobczyk, repeating that the Governor has never set foot in the Murray Center to see the level of modern care provided.
Disabled person tutored to ask for closure support
But perhaps the most critical response to Quinn’s press release came from Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville). Meier calls the decision “crazy” and mentioned the plan to have two Murray residents moved into a community living arrangement today.
“They weren’t even going to tell these people they were moving. They planned to take them after they returned from workshop, but there were still holes in the floor of the home they were going to take them to, so I guess it’s been rescheduled,” he said.
While Quinn commented about his administrations “person-centered” plan to transition residents safely into the community, he included a statement from Kevin Casey, director of the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Division of Developmental Disabilities.
“We are working closely with families and guardians using a person-centered planning process to ensure safe transitions for residents of Murray Center,” Casey was quoted. “We developed a comprehensive, well thought out plan to transition Murray residents safely into the community and ensure that each individual’s new home will meet their specific needs.”
But Meier doesn’t believe their statements, mentioning a recent visit to his Springfield office as reason to question the motives.
“If they’re really doing the right thing, why did someone from ARC show up in my office in a wheelchair saying they wanted to ask me to support the closure of Murray and when they were asked why they wanted me to do that, they said they were “told to say that,” questioned Meier. “If you really believe what you are doing is the right thing, you don’t have a special person like that come into my office in a wheelchair and tell them what to say.”