When Laura Phillippe was four years old her mother, Pam, was forced to make the hardest decision of her life - to send her child away. Now Gov. Pat Quinn wants to close the only home Laura has ever known, the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.
In an attempt to address the state's financial problems, Quinn announced plans to close two prisons, two youth detention centers, and four mental institutions, including the Murray Center, which is scheduled to close at the end of the week. A total of 59 state facilities were to be closed. Quinn said the need to lower state spending "gives us no choice."
As part of his plan, the governor has proposed placing residents of the Murray Center into residential group homes.
The decision to close the centers may be more than a dollars-and-cents issue, with many caregivers and families - including Phillippe - questioning the proposal.
At the time she decided to send Laura to the Murray center, people would make comments like, "How could you do that," she said. But, she has not regretted the decision. "I don't have to worry about her."
Laura, now 43, was not expected to live past the age of 16. She is severely developmentally disabled and suffers seizures. She is diagnosed as having the mental capacity of a two-month old. She is also legally blind. "She sees colors, but not images," Phillippe explained.
Her doctor helped her make the decision. When Laura was four, Pam had just had her third child and was caring for a two-year-old along with Laura. "The doctor said I had a choice, taking care of Laura or taking care of my other children," she said.
With the announcement of the closing of the Murray Center, Phillippe became very concerned about what was going to happen to her daughter. "I don't know what I am going to do now," she said.
The Murray Center was opened in 1964 and has a current occupancy of 276. It employs around 550 people and has an annual budget of $42.3 million.
The governor says the move is strictly budgetary. A recent audit of the Murray Center by the state indicated that it needs costly repairs, specifically to the power plant, and the cost of operations, overtime, and efficiency all factored into the decision.
But to others, the picture is less clear-cut. For one thing, state Sen. John O. Jones (R-Mt. Vernon), who represents the Centralia area, said the center actually took in about $10 million more than the $41 million it costs the state to operate it annually. He said the excess came from federal Medicare reimbursements, with the money going into the state's general fund.
"If we are going to provide grants or financing for the construction of new homes, why not just keep the Murray Center open?" Jones said.
The level of care needed by its residents is another factor. Jones said the biggest problem with the closing, and moving the residents to small home-type facilities, is that most require 24-hour care, including hand-feeding or tube-feeding. Some are bedridden.
At least one resident has lived at Murray since the opening in 1964. Jones personally knows of one resident who lived there 20 years and tried unsuccessfully to move to a group home.
"He became severally disruptive and had to move back," Jones said. "The Murray Center is their home. Moving them would cause disruption to their lives, making them harder to control."
Jones said places like the Murray Center are not like a prison, where prisoners can be moved, housed together or given early release. "These people require extensive care," he said.
Like Sen. Jones, Phillippe wants to know where the residents will go if Murray is closed. The answer to that question is far from clear-cut, either.
Community Resource Associates is under contract with the Department of Human Services to conduct assessments and create transition plans for residents of Jacksonville and Murray developmental centers, but concerns have been raised about the company's performance.
State Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, has filed a house resolution that would have the state Auditor General conduct an audit of the $1.35 million grant the state is paying for CRA's services. It would also seek to uncover possible conflicts of interest and find out if terms in the contract are being adhered to.
Before a resident is moved, CRA says first, the residents and family members are consulted, then a comprehensive dossier is drafted. It includes everything from a person's favorite television show, dietary needs and health risks to whether physical or speech therapy is needed and how long someone must help brush the person's teeth each day.
Then an effort is made to match people to their preferred housing situation. Some like group homes, others may want to live in an apartment with a roommate they've grown close to.
The process grows more complex when it comes to making sure residents will have the support they need, from doctors and therapists to caregivers who could do everything from help with the laundry to shop for groceries.
Opponents to the centers' closing say some people simply can't live in such settings, and need the structure that they've come to know at a state institution, whether because of severe mental disabilities, behavior problems or particularly fragile medical conditions.
Phillippe says her daughter needs constant care and questions whether it can be provided in a different setting.
"She has special needs, feeding, diaper changing, physical therapy, activities," she said, adding that the caregiving she has seen at Murray goes far beyond a job.
"When Laura changed cottages her nurse of 13 years transferred with her," Phillippe said.
And the personal care Laura gets is what has kept her from worrying about her oldest child.
"She is happy," Phillippe said. "She is always clean and they keep her well dressed. Her quality of life is greatly improved."
Joetta York, Hutsonville, also has a daughter at the Murray Center.
"We placed Gina in the Murray Center in June of 1982, at the age of 12. She is now 42. We looked at other facilities around the state, but nothing compared to Murray," York said.
Phillippe said closing Murray doesn't make sense to her. "Why can't they [the General Assembly] stop him?" she said. "I don't understand."
A spokesperson for the governor, Januari Smith Trader, said the administration is committed to rebalancing the system by increasing community care options and quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities.
The transition of Murray residents was expected to begin once the Jacksonville Developmental Center is fully closed.
Jones said the governor is moving forward, but slower, after mistakes made in the closing of the Jacksonville facility.
A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to allow family members of residents to testify and voice their concerns on the closing of the Murray Center.
Posted: Monday, December 03, 2012
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The Arc has a Family Transition Project and this project connects families who have made successful transitions into the community. We believe that families talking to families is the best way to get good information. For more information call 815-464-1832