Guest view: Closing Murray Center is good for its residents

May 25, 2013 

The rebalancing of the developmental disability system will forever change the lives of people with disabilities in Illinois. It's a life-enhancing process that offers promise, freedom and opportunity -- one that will allow even those with the most severe disabilities, such as Margaret who spent 50 years at the Howe Developmental Center, to become a neighbor, friend and roommate. Or David, who recently moved from the Jacksonville Developmental Center to work at a car wash. Or Jennifer, Dinah and Rachael, who transitioned from Jacksonville into a new home where they have made new friends, are eating healthy and spending more time with family.

Thanks to Gov. Pat Quinn's rebalancing initiative and support from disability champions in the General Assembly, people with disabilities are being offered the opportunity to achieve their full potential by putting state resources behind transitioning them into a community of choice. Our policymakers have learned from the success of 14 other states that closed state institutions and shifted resources to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to thrive in the community.

There is no question that anyone can live a happy and successful life in the community with the proper supports and services. While taxpayers save money with community programs versus keeping antiquated institutions in operation, it's not about money. It's a matter of civil rights and providing people with disabilities the opportunity for full inclusion.

I had the privilege to meet several of the residents of the Murray Developmental Center during my trip to Centralia earlier this month. I was greeted by several of the residents who seemed excited to have a visitor. This was not my first visit to a state institution but I thought it was important that I saw for myself what I have heard so many times. People don't "live" in Murray, they "exist." I saw people wondering aimlessly down the hollow hallways and others sitting around staring into space. There was no laughter and little activity, mostly wasted potential. I left there with a heavy heart knowing that these residents deserve more. I had great conversations with a couple of the Murray residents and couldn't help but think, why are you here? Then there were those who had severe disabilities and at first glance you might not think he could ever survive let alone flourish in the community. That's the best part about the rebalancing initiative; it truly is for everyone because each move is planned and customized to meet individual needs. Whether it's 24-hour care, handicap accessibility or mobility equipment, community living is possible for everyone.

I also know that some of the residents are scared. The Murray Parents Association is intimidating guardians and self-advocates by pressuring them not to participate in the transition process. The fact of the matter is that Murray is going to close and resisting the inevitable only hurts the residents.

A thoughtful, person-centered planning process that looks at the possibilities and evaluates the individual's needs takes time. Evaluators need to get to know the person and their preferences on how they would like to live. They need time to evaluate medical and behavioral needs to ensure a healthy and safe transition. Providers need time to hire and train the best staff and to purchase equipment.

Stall tactics allow experts less time to develop a comprehensive person centered plan and the outcome might include multiple moves, relocation outside the area and added stress. There is no downside to going through the person-centered process and evaluation because the individual can opt out at any time.

Ensuring that everyone with a disability has the opportunity to live in the community is the mission of the Going Home Campaign. We are a diverse group of stakeholders dedicated to helping self-advocates and families through the transition process.

I understand that change is sometimes scary but people can rest assured, they are not alone. We have helped families transition from the Jacksonville Developmental Center and we are here for Murray families as well.

I truly hope that Murray residents see the rebalancing initiative as an opportunity and allow us the privilege of helping them to realize their full potential.

To learn more about the Going Home Campaign, to connect with our team or to access our resources visit www.goinghomeillinois.org.

Tony Paulauski is executive director of the Arc of Illinois and a member of the Going Home Campaign.

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