How are former Murray Center residents doing? Meier challenges state report

News-DemocratDecember 21, 2013 

A new report by an organization enlisted by the Illinois Department of Human Services to follow up on former Murray Developmental Center residents to see how they are doing outside the center indicates the 14 residents are doing well in their new homes.

The audit, which was released Friday, was compiled by Deborah M. Kennedy, director of the Abuse Investigation Unit for Equip for Equality. Equip for Equality is a federally mandated protection and advocacy organization charged with overseeing Illinois.

The Murray Center is a facility that provides full-time care facilities for adults with developmental disabilities. The state has proposed closing the facility and contends that people with such disabilities would have better quality of life in private, community-based residential units than institutions, and would cut costs by about 50 percent.

The report indicates that the adults who have already moved from the facility into group homes have adjusted to the different settings and, in some instances, are doing better than they were while at the center.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, questioned the validity of the report and questioned the timing of its release, the Friday before Christmas.

"It's devious to release this information when everyone is gearing up for the Christmas season and when they know very few people are paying attention," Meier said. "It's common for the governor to dump out a load of bad information on Fridays because those are typically slow news days. I worry what is in this report that they felt the need to wait until the Friday before Christmas to sneak it out of the door."

The Murray Center Parents Association is suing the state over the proposed closure of the center and contends that some Murray residents have disabilities so profound that they cannot reside safely outside an institution. The Murray parents are joined in their suit by the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled. They allege that closing the center violates the residents' civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, because moving them to smaller residential homes deprives them of the services they need.

The audit report indicates that "in all but one situation, the community supports and services not only meet the individuals' needs, but are enabling these individuals to live fuller lives," and that the "individuals have adjusted well to their new homes." The report also cites indicates improvements in the adults who have moved to group homes from the Murray Center, including less reliance on adult diapers, reduction in self-injurious behaviors, a reduction in aggressive behavior and demonstrating more independence in feeding themselves. Some of the adults are taking walks in their neighborhoods, participating in grocery shopping, going to the movies, playing catch, watching television and listening to music of their choice, things they could not do while at the Murray Center, the report indicated.

Equip for Equality is a known supporter of the closure of Murray Center, according to Meier.

"It's obvious this report is biased," Meier said. "When they use the phrase 'these homes have been subject to harassment by members of the community' about a few (Community Integrated Living Arrangements) in Centralia, Equip for Equality and DHS are directly attacking the Murray Parents Association and Friends For Murray."

Meier said he and his staff are reviewing the report further but that he expects to find very little honest assessment.

The audit was sent to Director Kevin Casey of the Division of Developmental Disabilities of the Department of Human Services.

Earlier this month, a settlement hearing in the case brought by the Murray Center Parents Association against the state was held and no agreement was reached. The case will go to trial in January.

"Equip for Equality was reportedly in three different courtrooms on Thursday around the state trying to get involved in the federal court case regarding Murray," Meier added. "Given their position on Murray Center and their desire to see it closed, I believe this report won't be worth the paper it was printed on and will be filled with nothing but rainbows and sunshine."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at jschaaf@bnd.com or 618-239-2667.

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