'It's offensive': Lawmaker upset with portrayal of Murray Center backers

News-DemocratJanuary 12, 2014 

— A state lawmaker says he's offended that attorneys for Illinois questioned the efforts by Murray Center residents' parents and the center's employees to raise money for a legal fight against closing the facility.

Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said he and many parents and siblings of Murray residents have spent countless hours "slinging out food for barbecue plates and chicken-and-beer dances," as well as holding raffles and bake sales and other fundraisers, to cover legal expenses.

"Yes, the employees have given money to them -- there's no doubt about that," Meier said. "But for the state to say that's what's driving this ... You show me one parent here who would not lay down their life for their child. These people are fighting for their loved ones' lives."

The Illinois Department of Public Health wants to close the Murray Center in Centralia as part of a shift in the way the state cares for people with developmental disabilities. The state wants to move many of those individuals from institutions like Murray to group homes which are privately operated, but with public funding. The state says group homes and other community-based types of care give a fuller life to the individuals, and are less expensive -- allowing the state to provide services to more people who need them.

Murray supporters dispute the savings and say group homes can't adequately care for some individuals whose disabilities are profound.

The Murray Parents Association, which includes parents, siblings and other guardians of Murray residents, is suing to block the center's closure. A judge heard arguments in the case last week in federal court in Chicago.

At the court proceedings, a state lawyer, Thomas Ioppolo, argued the lawsuit is driven "in large measure" by Murray employees who don't want to lose their jobs. He noted one check alone for $30,000 that a worker group gave to the parent group for legal expenses. The president of the parent group has said roughly $80,000 has been raised, from various sources, for legal costs.

The parent group, the worker group, civic groups and others have conducted fundraisers. The parent group has touted those efforts, such as a 9-year-old Albers girl who stood in the back of her church for four Sundays to collect donations, managing to raise $297.

Meier said it's wrong for the state to question the fundraising.

"It's offensive," he said.

Meier said the financial interests of players involved in the closing of Murray Center deserve a critical look.

Meier noted that Mark Doyle, who works for Gov. Pat Quinn and is overseeing the transition of Murray residents to othe facilities, once worked for Derrick Dufresne. Dufresne's firm, Community Resource Alliance, has a $180,000-per-month contract with the state to conduct assessments on individual Murray residents, to determine in each case if an individual's needs can be met in a group home or some other type of facility.

Meier added that Dufresne's firm gets paid by the state on time, "when our school districts, our pharmacies, our nursing homes and all of our other vendors are 12 to 15 months behind."

Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said Dufresne's firm "has indeed experienced payment delays while under contract with IDHS. However, the number of backlogged bills has decreased significantly in recent months."

Smith also noted that both Doyle and Dufresne have decades of experience in the field of developmental disabilities. Smith said Doyle and Dufresne worked together in 1984-1986, but roughly 25 years would pass before the two would work together again during the closure of the Jacksonville Developmental Center. The state closed Jacksonville, an institution similar to Murray, in 2012.

"It is not unusual to work with the same individuals and organizations in such a specialized field," Smith said.

The judge in the case is expected to issue a ruling around March on the request by the Murray Parent Association for a temporary injunction.

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

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