One of the region’s largest residential facilities for adults with developmental disabilities will close next month after operating for nearly 40 years.
“Our board of directors decided that we’re no longer financially stable,” said Carol Morrison, interim administrator at the Specialized Living Center in Swansea. “And we certainly don’t want our residents to get less than the best service.”
One factor, she said, is that the Illinois Department of Human Services encourages guardians to move clients out of large residential facilities with more supervision and into small, community-based group homes with more independence.
The department didn’t make a spokesman available for comment this week despite multiple requests.
The Specialized Living Center covers 13.5 acres off Caseyville Avenue, across from Melvin Price Memorial Park. Its six residential buildings formerly housed up to 100 clients. For the past year, it’s been licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health as a 65-bed facility.
“We couldn’t keep it at the break-even point of 61 residents because we don’t get very many referrals,” Morrison said.
The facility had 54 clients before last month’s decision to close. Four already have been relocated. Staff are working with state and regional agencies to quickly find places for the other 50 to live.
“There are lots of options, but not all of them are in the St. Clair-Madison area,” Morrison said. “So people are having to go farther out.”
Operated by non-profit organization
The Specialized Living Center was built by the state of Illinois in 1980. At that time, it was called St. Clair County Specialized Living Center because it was part of a group of facilities across the state.
The Swansea facility is at 1450 Caseyville Ave. It’s now operated by a private, non-profit organization called Parents and Friends of the Specialized Living Center.
In 2017, the Illinois Department of Public Health fined the facility $12,500 for violations that involved neglect that could have resulted or did result in death or serious harm. But on Thursday, department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold debunked rumors that the state was forcing it to close.
“They gave us notification that they were closing due to financial reasons,” she said. “... They are required to give 60 days notice, but if they are able to move all of the current residents to other locations, they can close before that.”
In late September and early October, the Specialized Living Center’s Facebook page was still promoting an Oct. 18 trivia fundraiser at Crehan’s Irish Pub in Belleville and advertising the open positions of maintenance assistant, intellectual disability professional and licensed practical nurse.
On Oct. 24, Morrison sent a “notice of closure” to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“We are in a financial crisis and cannot guarantee that we will have enough funding to pay staff until 12/31/19,” it stated. “We also understand that IDPH will not assist with funding.”
The facility has 104 people on staff. The reaction among employees and guardians have ranged from shock and sadness to anger and bitterness, Morrison said.
“Emotions are too raw for people to talk about it. ... We have employees and residents who have been here since the beginning.”
Property and buildings to be sold
The Specialized Living Center property resembles a cul-de-sac neighborhood with winding streets and mature trees. The six residential buildings are made of wood and stone. Each has nine bedrooms, a kitchenette, laundry room, family room and dining area, according to the Facebook page.
There’s also a gymnasium, two maintenance sheds and an administrative building with offices, a main kitchen, physical therapy room and space for other services.
“Everything will go up for sale,” Morrison said.
On Friday, neighbors along Caseyville Avenue didn’t know about the closing. John Neff, 77, a retired housekeeper at the former St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, has lived in a brick duplex next door for 31 years. He said the facility’s residents and staff largely kept to themselves.
Karen McLean, 61, has been renting a small white home across the street for four years. She sees delivery trucks and occasionally ambulances go in and out of the property, but describes it as a relatively quiet place.
“I don’t know what’s going to go in there, unless they want to expand the (Melvin Price) park,” she said.
Swansea Village Administrator Ben Schloesser said the village was aware that the Specialized Living Center was closing, and that officials were saddened by the news.
“They provide a valuable service to our community, and they ensure that all of our residents get the important services they need,” he said.