With a crowd of at least 100 people, only two individuals spoke in favor of closing the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center during Wednesday’s public hearing of the Health Facilities and Review Board that was held at Centralia City Hall.
Mark Doyle, who was hired by Gov. Pat Quinn to oversee the closures of Murray and the now shuttered Jacksonville Developmental Center, spoke first. Doyle said the “rebalancing initiative” being used on the Murray Center is the same initiative that was used last year to close Jacksonville.
He also mentioned the Olmstead Act, which a federal judge on Tuesday said was not a reason to close the Murray Center and dismissed the state’s motion that cites the Act in a federal case regarding the closure.
The second speech in favor of closure came from Joe Turner, deputy director of the Department of Developmental Disabilities within DHS. The director of the department, Kevin Casey, was not available for the hearing.
Also not available for the hearing were most members of the review board, with only one member, Phil Bradley in attendance. However, Bradley reportedly fell asleep during portions of the hearing.
Dr. Karen Kelly, the mother of a Murray resident is an experienced behavioral health care nurse, and an expert in health policy. Standing with Kelly during her presentation was her son Eric. She spoke of the dangers that she believes will be facing her son if he is moved out of Murray and into a community integrated living arrangement (CILA) home.
Kelly noted her son has the body of a linebacker and the mind of a toddler, that he is prone to violent outbursts and had been rejected by multiple community arrangements before being sent to Murray.
She said privately-operated homes, with small staffs; high turnover and working hours that violate federal labor laws wouldn’t be able to handle her son as they are inadequately trained.
She listed the recent findings of attorney Stewart Freeman, a court-appointed guardian for the state wards of the center, saying someone belongs in jail for the conditions he found.
With her voice cracking, and tears in her eyes, Kelly commented that after reading Freeman’s report on his visits to privately-operated residential units, she cried for three hours.
She noted Freeman found overworked staffs and unsafe conditions, with workers at one center using their own money to buy Ensure to poured down a resident’s feeding tube because the CILA home ran out of the resident’s doctor-prescribed nutrition.
“That’s what you want for my son? I don’t think so,” Kelly said. “I think in your heart, you want to do the right thing.”
Kelly received a standing ovation for her speech, which led the way for nearly 30 others who spoke of similar concerns, experiences and evidence.
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Wiley Blair, an attorney in the Clinton County case regarding the state wards of Murray Center, presented information from the affidavit of Janice Kerst, whose daughter lived at Murray for 11 years after multiple failed community placements.
Kerst, he said, gave her consent to have her daughter Jennifer moved to a CILA home in Danville, after she received promises from DHS of a better life for her daughter.
She instead found on her first visit that her daughter was reverting to violent outbursts that resulted in holes in the walls
of her room. During a second visit she discovered her daughter had broken several windows and had been taken to the hospital, but the home never notified her or her ex-husband of the situation.
Ultimately her daughter was prescribed strong medications and she was kept severely drugged.
“They are doping people up because they can’t control them,” claimed Blair, adding that within a month of moving into the CILA in Danville, Jennifer was transferred to Shapiro Developmental Center, but again her parents were not informed of her move until days after.
According to her affidavit, Kerst has requested her daughter be returned to Murray, she says, “If I had known how Jennifer would be treated at her home in Danville, I never would have consented to her transfer. In my opinion there are simply not the safeguards, policies, community and continuity of care that MDC has to offer.”
“The question you need to be asking yourselves is, ‘Will these residents receive the same level of care?’ The answer is a resounding, ‘no,’” Blair told the board.
While Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois was at the hearing, he did not speak before the board. Arc is an advocacy group that has been pushing for the closure of Murray and other state operated developmental centers
Paulauski did hand out folders containing literature about The Arc and a letter stating that he has been to the Murray Center and that in his opinion, “we no longer need any state institutions in Illinois.
“Governor Quinn’s Rebalancing Initiative is moving the Illinois Disability System out of the dark ages. This initiative is a model for the nation. Nowhere in the United States has a Governor supported community more than Governor Quinn,” reads Paulauski’s letter.