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Murray Center supporter named to Rauner team

The president of a parent group at the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia has been named to the transition team of governor-elect Bruce Rauner.

The appointment of Murray Parents Association president Rita Winkeler of Bartelso to Rauner’s transition is a good sign that the state-operated developmental center will remain open, according to state Rep. Charlie Meier, an Okawville Republican.

“At the bare minimum, it means the incoming administration wants to hear Murray Parents’ side of the story, and wants their input and ideas. After several years of being completely shut out of the process, this is huge.” Meier said.

Winkeler said she’s “honored and humbled” to be chosen, and is happy that Rauner “has chosen to include someone from Southern Illinois to be part of this team, as our voice has not always been heard in Springfield and Chicago.”

Rauner, a Republican, defeated Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, in the election last month. Rauner is in the process of assembling his administration and has vowed to keep Murray open.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said: “The future of the Murray Center is an issue that will be facing the Rauner administration, and Ms. Winkeler brings an important perspective that should be included in the transition process.”

Quinn’s administration has been attempting to close Murray Center, on grounds that it would save money and that residents are better off in community-based group homes, which are privately-operated but receive public support.

Although a federal judge has declared the state can proceed with closing Murray, the state’s Department of Human Services currently has no target date set for its closure.

However, Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for DHS, said the agency remains “strongly committed to providing a choice of living options to people with developmental disabilities.”

She added: “We are continuing to work with individuals that want to transition to the community and educate them and their families about the living options that are available in the state. We are assisting those that choose to move from our large state-operated centers in hopes of having their own bedroom, support staff, kitchen, television, etc.”

Murray Center has been home to about 240 adults with developmental disabilities, and has about 530 employees.

The state has argued that placement in a group home instead of an institution saves the state about $100,000 per personal annually, allowing the state to spread its limited resources among a growing number of developmentally disabled who need services.

Illinois currently serves about 1,800 residents in institutional developmental centers, and about 22,000 people in community-based settings such as group homes. 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.

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