'Do the right thing': About 100 gather for Murray Center hearing

News-DemocratOctober 9, 2013 

The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board met Wednesday afternoon in Centralia, Ill., to see whether there was reason to keep the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center open. Parents of the developmentally disabled adults who live there testified in the center's favor, while others advocating community-based care testified against the institution.

BRIAN BRUEGGEMANN/BND

— Several opponents and two proponents of closing the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center made presentations Wednesday to a state board whose approval is required for the closure.

About 100 people attended a public hearing at Centralia City Hall on whether the state should be allowed to close the 372-bed center for adults with developmental disabilities.

Many in the crowd wore green T-shirts that say "Save Murray Center."

People with opinions on the state Department of Human Services' plan to close the center were each given 3 minutes to address the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.

Of the review board's nine members, only one -- Philip Bradley of Sangamon County -- attended the hearing, and at least one audience member said Bradley may have been napping at times. At the start of the hearing, Bradley said the board's members would review an audio recording of the hearing before voting on whether to close Murray Center.

The review board makes determinations on whether major medical facilities in Illinois can open or modify their services -- including shutting down. As part of its decision-making process, the review board scheduled the hearing Wednesday to accept public input. The review board will meet Nov. 5 in Bolingbrook to vote on whether DHS can continue with the Murray Center closure.

Those giving testimony included Karen Kelly, of O'Fallon, whose adult son, Eric Schutzenhofer, resides at the center. Kelly said her son has the body of a linebacker and is prone to violent episodes. Kelly said privately-operated homes, with small staffs, wouldn't be able to handle her son.

Kelly also mentioned the recent findings of attorney Stewart Freeman, a court-appointed guardian for some residents of the center. Freeman's report on his visits to privately-operated residential units, where some Murray Center residents have already been transferred, found overworked staffs and unsafe conditions. A worker at one center went to a store and bought Ensure to pour down a resident's feeding tube because the center ran out of the resident's doctor-prescribed nutrition.

"Somebody belongs in jail," Kelly said. "If that happened in a hospital, heads would roll."

She added, "That's what you want for my son? I don't think so. I think in your heart, you want to do the right thing."

Kelly said privately-operated homes are "cheaper because it's a lesser level of care," using fewer staff and not providing around-the-clock nursing, therapy programs or recreation programs.

Kelly, a nurse, said board member Bradley appeared to be snoozing at times.

"He was sleeping," Kelly said. "As a nurse, I think I know when people are sleeping."

The board's administrator, Courtney Avery, said after the hearing that Bradley would have no comment -- on neither the testimony nor on the allegation that he slept.

The two witnesses who spoke in favor of closing the center both are members of Gov. Pat Quinn's administration.

Mark Doyle, of Quinn's office, testified that people with developmental disabilities "enjoy being a part of their community" when residing in community-integrated residential centers. Doyle said the state has used a "safe and thoughtful transition process" in transferring Murray Center residents to those types of homes.

Doyle added that privately-operated residential units are a "better use of the state's limited funds."

Some Murray Center supporters said Wednesday they aren't expecting any help from the review board, which consists mostly of members appointed by Quinn. Quinn's administration is pushing for closure of state-operated mental institutions, on grounds that people with developmental disabilities can lead fuller lives in smaller, "community-integrated" residential units that are privately-operated, but with public funding.

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, but Murray Center supporters dispute those figures.

Rita Winkeler, of Bartelso, whose son resides at Murray, predicted after the hearing that the board is "probably going to vote to close us."

In her statement to the board, Winkeler said placing people in privately-operated units would actually isolate those individuals "due to lack of staff to take them on outings, and lack of access to community activities."

Centralia Mayor Tom Ashby spoke about the economic effect of closing Murray Center, which has about 530 employees. He said it would increase Centralia's unemployment rate to 15 percent, among the highest in the state.

The review board gave approval to the closure of a similar state institution, the Jacksonville Developmental Center, which DHS closed last year.

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

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