Murray Center closure faces another hurdle with review board hearing

News-DemocratOctober 8, 2013 

The state will take another formal step Wednesday toward closing its Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board will hold a hearing beginning at 4 p.m. at Centralia City Hall on whether the Illinois Department of Human Services can close Murray Center.

In Illinois, the construction or modification of major health care facilities -- including closing them -- has to be approved by the state's Health Facilities and Services Review Board, if anyone makes a request for a board review. The board received multiple requests from the public to review the proposed closing of Murray Center.

At the hearing, the board's members will hear comments from anyone interested in Murray Center's proposed closure. The board's members are appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, whose administration is pushing for the closure of state-operated mental institutions.

However, the board's administrator, Courtney Avery, said the board is not a rubber stamp for the governor.

"The board members vote independent of the governor; they're not instructed on which way to vote," Avery said. "The governor's office has no communication with board members, once they're appointed. They're expected to act independently."

Quinn says residents of the institutions would lead more fulfilling lives in smaller, privately-operated, "community-integrated" residential units.

The state also says placing residents in private centers is less expensive, about $120,000 per year versus about $239,000 per year at Murray Center.

Murray Center supporters dispute the state's figures, and say the actual cost at Murray is about $142,000 per resident, per year. Murray Center's supporters, including a parent group, also say the smaller residential units are not appropriate for some Murray Center residents who have profound developmental disabilities.

The Health Facilities and Services Review Board is expected vote on the Murray Center closure at its next meeting, Nov. 5 in Bolingbrook.

Murray Center supporters plan to pack the hearing in Centralia. The city of Centralia has made arrangements for overflow parking areas, and audio of the hearing will be played live in a large tent between City Hall and the Masonic Lodge. Live audio and video also will be available in the Masonic Lodge.

Avery said City Hall has a seating capacity of about 100, so she's asking the public to be patient. She said the hearing will be brought to a close "no later than 7 p.m." The length of time that each person will be allowed to speak will depend on how many people make requests to do so.

"I'm requesting a sizable number of people to speak, so it'll probably be between 1 to 2 minutes," Avery said.

Written comments also will be accepted.

The state last year closed a similar facility, the Jacksonville Developmental Center. The Health Facilities and Services Review Board conducted a hearing on that closure, and approved it.

The Department of Human Services already is in the process of closing Murray Center, and expects to have the facility shut down by Nov. 30.

The 372-bed facility at one point had about 270 residents, but the population now is about 230, due to some residents already being moved to other homes. The center has about 530 employees.

Meantime, a federal court hearing on an attempt by the Murray Parents Association to block the center's closure has been postponed, from Nov. 4 to Jan. 6. A lawsuit filed by the group in federal court in Chicago alleges that closing Murray Center and other state-operated developmental centers would violate the residents' rights.

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

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