SPRINGFIELD — The state began moving patients out of the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center, a home for developmentally disabled adults in Centralia, a state lawmaker said Friday.
State Rep. Charlie Meier, an Okawville Republican from the 108th District, said on the floor of the Illinois House that the state began the process of closing down the center.
Representatives from the metro-east expressed clear disapproval of the move.
Gov. Patrick Quinn has ordered the center closed, saying it will save the state money and provide a better quality of life for its residents. The state plans to place the Murray Center residents in private, "community care" facilities.
"I am deeply saddened and outraged to hear this," said Meier, who fought for months to keep the center open. "The governor and his administration are putting the lives of everyone at Murray Center at risk."
He added, "I ask everyone in the House today to please pray -- please pray -- for these residents."
Meier argued that former residents of the Jacksonville Developmental Center, another state institution that already closed, haven't adjusted well to private facilities, and some have even suffered injuries. Murray Center supporters, including many family members of the center's residents, say some of the residents are too profoundly disabled to reside outside a state institution.
Quinn, in a statement Friday, touted the closure of Murray Center.
"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," the Democratic governor said. "Moving from outdated institutions to community care is improving Illinois' quality of care and allowing people to lead more independent and fulfilling lives."
Yet House members of both parties from the metro-east decried the closure. Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, said it's a "shameful" move.
"These are absolutely, ladies and gentlemen, the most needy citizens of the state of Illinois," Costello said. "I think what's going on is wrong. I think the governor made a very poor decision."
Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, said one elderly man who resides in his district has a wife who resides in a nursing home and an adult child who resides at Murray Center. Beiser said the man had been to his office and "was literally in tears" because he doesn't know what will happen to his child.
Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, noted that the House had approved money to keep Murray Center open.
"This is not a proud day in Illinois, folks," Kay said. "I do not know how the governor of the state of Illinois can do what he's done."
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said the governor's move is "very cold, and it's very calculated," and it is "breaking the hearts, confusing the lives, of some of our most needy people."
Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, said it's "a sad day for me and my district."
Meier said afterward that he did not yet have information on how many residents were being moved as of Friday.
"It was starting as I was talking on the floor of the House," Meier said. "I don't know the number yet."
Murray Center, home to about 260 residents, is scheduled to close in the fall. The center has a staff of about 530.
Quinn's staff says 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.
On the House floor, Rep. Kenneth Dunkin, D-Chicago, said he sympathizes with Murray Center supporters, but added that lawmakers need to look at "alternative revenue sources" and "how we address the revenue issue in this state."
Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler said Friday: "For far too long, Illinois has relied on an outdated system of care for people with developmental disabilities, and Gov. Quinn's administration is making significant progress in rebalancing that system. Today, as we continue to develop community care options and safely transition our citizens to community care settings, we can all be proud that Illinois is moving forward to empower all people to reach their full potential."
Saddler said the first residents moved from Murray Center will move to a "Community Integrated Living Arrangement" in east-central Illinois.
Kevin Casey, director of DHS' Division of Developmental Disabilities, said the state is "working closely with families and guardians using a person-centered planning process to ensure safe transitions for residents of Murray Center. We developed a comprehensive, well-thought-out plan to transition Murray residents safely into the community. All residents will undergo a thorough planning process, including assessment, consultation with families and guardians, and planning sessions with providers to determine specific needs and ensure safe transitions."
Quinn's staff said private facilities that care for the residents must be licensed by the state. DHS requires contracted providers to do background checks on potential employees. All employees are required to have 80 hours of on-the-job training and 40 hours of classroom instruction.
Karen Kelly, of O'Fallon, whose adult son resides at Murray Center, said the first residents being moved out are ones under state guardianship.
Kelly said many parents are hopeful that a federal lawsuit they filed recently can keep the center open. She also said Murray Center proponents are "starting to get a little groundswell of support," so they remain hopeful that legislative action can save the center.
Private, community-based facilities typically house a handful of residents and have only one staff member on duty at a time, Kelly said. Such employees are generally low-paid and not as qualified as ones at a state facility, she said.
"Many of us have looked at alternatives," Kelly said. "There aren't many good ones."
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at email@example.com.