Brady, Dillard vow to fight for Murray Center

News-DemocratJanuary 30, 2014 

— Supporters trying to keep open the state's Warren G. Murray Developmental Center are getting a sympathetic ear from two of the Republican gubernatorial hopefuls.

But Gov. Pat Quinn's administration, which is in the process of closing the center in Centralia, maintains that shifting more adults with developmental disabilities out of institutions and into group homes is the best option.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, visited the center in Centralia on Thursday and met afterward with the Murray Parent Association, promising that Murray won't close if he's elected governor.

"I am committed to keeping Murray open," Brady told the group.

Another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, said in a phone interview Thursday that he, too, has met with Murray supporters and told them he'd keep the center open.

Mike Schrimpf, spokesman for a third Republican candidate, Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner, said Rauner "thinks we need to do a comprehensive assessment of all the state's assets and ensure they are being fully utilized." The campaign for another GOP candidate, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Quinn's administration wants to close Murray and transfer most of its residents to group homes that are privately operated but publicly financed. The state says community-based group homes are a more modern way to care for most people with developmental disabilities, and that most people prefer residing in a home rather than an institution.

In addition, the state says placement in a group home instead of an institution saves the state about $100,000 per year per person, allowing Illinois to spread its limited resources among a growing number of developmentally disabled who need services.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson on Thursday said the governor's plan is "about giving every person in Illinois, no matter what their challenges are, the opportunity to make their own choices and chase their own dreams, and live their lives to the full potential."

Anderson said when Quinn took office, Illinois was putting more people into mental institutions than any other state. She said investing in community-based care rather than institutions provides people with developmental disabilities "more choices in their communities" and "a better quality of life."

Murray Center currently has about 225 residents. It used to have about 270, but some have already moved. The center has about 530 employees. The state says the cost to operate the center was $39 million in 2013.

Brady, in an interview after his meeting with the parent group, said keeping Murray open would not run counter to Republican principles of smaller government, privatization and less government spending.

"Not at all. Republicans believe that taking care of our most needy is one of our greatest responsibilities, and I believe in revitalizaing our economy, so we have even more resources to take care of the most needy. But this governor turning his back on the residents of Murray Center is just wrong," Brady said.

He also accused Quinn of being "Chicago-centric" and "turning his back on Southern Illinois."

Brady and Dillard also have vowed to reopen the Tamms Correctional Center.

Dillard said Thursday that promising to keep Murray open is not pandering for votes.

"I don't pander to anyone, but I know the Murray Center and I know the Tamms correctional facility, which I helped design when I was Gov. Jim Edgar's chief of staff, and closing them are terrible policy mistakes," Dillard said. "They're penny-wise but pound-foolish decisions by Pat Quinn."

Murray Parent Association president Rita Winkeler said the group isn't endorsing a particular party or candidate, "but we are hoping that all the candidates for governor will take the time to visit our loved ones' home. When they do, and talk to the staff and us, they will realize that Murray is a treasure that must remain open and funded."

Supporters of Murray Center say some residents have profound disabilites and need to be cared for in an institution.

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

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

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