Murray Center gets more bad news; new delays in state payments

News-DemocratApril 30, 2013 

Private providers and community agencies that will care for residents of the soon-to-close Warren G. Murray Developmental Center can expect new delays in their state payments of up to four months.

Supporters of the Murray Center say the delayed-payment plan is evidence that closing the institution in Centralia is a bad idea.

"At a time when the state is trying to force the severely and profoundly disabled out of Murray Center and into the community, the state admits it cannot pay its bills," said Karen Kelly of O'Fallon, whose adult son is a Murray resident.

The Illinois Department of Human Services sent a letter Monday to providers of services for the developmentally disabled, informing them that the state's poor financial condition is "resulting in significant funding delays."

The payment delay will be nearly two months for some types of facilities, such as day programs, child group homes and what the state refers to as Community Integrated Living Arrangements, or CILAs, which are group homes for eight or fewer adults with developmental disabilities.

The delay will be about four-and-a-half months for other types of facilities, such as Intermediate Care Facilities, which are residential facilities for adults who have developmental disabilities as well as behavioral or medical issues that require 24-hour treatment or care.

Most Murray Center residents would end up in CILAs or Intermediate Care Facilities.

The Department of Human Services, under direction of Gov. Pat Quinn, is in the process of closing Murray Center. Quinn's staff said people with developmental disabilities fare better in community-based settings, rather than institutions. The state also said it costs taxpayers about half as much to provide care in a private facility instead of a state institution -- about $120,000 per year versus about $239,000 per year at Murray Center.

Murray Center proponents argue that many residents are too profoundly disabled to thrive in a private setting, and they question the state's cost figures.

Josh Evans, legislative director for the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, a trade association for community agencies that provide services to people with disabilities, said the state already owes about $220 million to such providers under this year's budget. The state has a roughly $9 billion backlog of bills owed to various vendors.

Evans said some service providers have "maxed or extended lines of credit" in order to meet payroll and keep their doors open.

Evans said the only reason there have not been closures of community-based providers is because the state comes to the financial rescue at the last minute.

"We're under a put-out-fires scenario. The provider will call the state comptroller and say, 'Hey, I need to make payroll next week, and don't have any cash on hand,'" Evans said.

Evans said he can "see why there would be reason for concern" for people whose relatives are being forced to leave state institutions and sent to centers that are paid late and scraping for cash.

Kelly said she and other parents have been asking state officials what will happen if a private facility suddenly closes its doors due to problems with state payments, and there are no state institution to go back to as a safety net.

"Well, now we see that that's exactly what is happening. They're not paying their bills," Kelly said.

Kevin Casey, director of DHS' Division of Developmental Disabilities, said in the letter to providers that he is hopeful for a solution to the funding delays.

"We truly understand and are sensitive to the hardships this will cause for a number of social service providers across the state," Casey said. "We have been discussing the budget shortfall with members of the General Assembly for several months now, and we are diligently working on a number of solutions to free up state funds and increase cash flow to other vital areas."

Casey said the governor's fiscal 2014 budget proposal includes $145 million to address the payment cycle for developmental disabilities services.

Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that in the meantime, DHS "will work closely with affected providers to alleviate possible financial hardships this may cause. Many of the providers we are currently working with have expressed patience while we work on a funding solution."

The state last week began moving residents out of Murray Center, which is scheduled to close in late fall. The center has about 260 residents and about 530 employees.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2511.

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