Despite a judge's ruling that the state can close its Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, parents are in no hurry to find new homes for their loved ones.
"We may have lost a battle," said Rita Winkeler, president of the Murray Parent Association, "but we haven't lost the war yet."
A federal judge on Monday turned down the parent group's request for an injunction that would have blocked the state from closing Murray Center. Gov. Pat Quinn announced plans to close the center in 2012, but the closure process has been on hold due to the litigation.
There currently are 219 individuals residing at Murray Center, plus another 12 residents who are on "pre-transition" visits to possible new homes.
The Murray parents have been resolute in their fight to keep the center open. Winkeler said they "absolutely" remain united.
"Everyone is still very much on board on keeping Murray Center open," she said.
An appeal is being considered.
"We met with the attorneys. They're still discussing what we'll do from here," Winkeler said.
Winkeler said state officials testified at the trial in January that Murray guardians are being offered the opportunity to transfer their loved ones to other state-operated institutions or to private institutions with nursing staffs. The parents dispute that, saying the state is trying to force most of the people into a less-expensive alternative: small group homes.
"The good part about this ruling, even though we're not happy with the ruling, is that the state said in federal court, on the stand, that they've given us all of these choices. The judge believed it, and now they have to give us all of these choices," Winkeler said. "But those services, at this time, don't exist."
The parents allege that the state wants to close all of its institutions for the developmentally disabled, in favor of mostly group homes. The remaining institutions have limited openings, according to the parents.
The state says it has no plans to close all of its six other institutions, but acknowledges that group homes are preferred for most people. Group homes, according to the state, allow people to be more integrated in the community. Group homes also save the state about $100,000 per person annually, allowing Illinois to provide services to a growing number of people who need them, according to the state.
Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said no new closure date has been set for Murray. It had previously been scheduled to close in October 2013.
"We'll have more information in the coming weeks and will continue to be in constant communication with all parties involved," Smith said. "This will be a long process, and the focus right now is on restarting discussions with parents about all the living options that are available."
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, who has battled to keep Murray open, said many of its residents have severe disabilities and need the staffing levels offered only in institutions.
"There's no question that forcing them into a lesser facility, with less monitoring, will place their safety at risk," Meier said. "Make no mistake, we will continue to fight for these residents."
Lance Trover, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner said Rauner, who met with the parent group in April and gave them a financial contribution, wants to keep Murray open. Trover said Quinn "has never been down there and met with the families."
Winkeler has hope that the state will reverse course on the closure. "Well, there's an election coming up toward the end of this year," she said.
Judge Marvin Aspen, in his ruling on the closure, noted that 11 states have quit operating institutions for people who have developmental disabilities. "Community programs have been developing for at least 50 years and are not a fad," the judge wrote.
Aspen also noted that Illinois currently serves about 1,800 residents in institutional developmental centers, and about 22,000 people in community-based settings such as group homes. But, the judge added, "an estimated 23,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois are on a waiting list to receive services, of whom 6,000 are considered to be in emergency situations. The (state) lacks funding to offer services to these individuals."
Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at firstname.lastname@example.org.