Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013
Murray Center Supporters Hope to Avoid Joining Shuttered Facilities
WSIL -- Family members celebrate a small victory after the state delays closure of the Murray Center in Centralia.
They don't want the facility to join three other state facilities in southern Illinois now sitting empty. Although those shuttered state facilities are still costing the state money, officials insist the savings far outweigh the costs. Murray supporters insist you can't put a price on their loved ones' care.
The Department of Human Services says closure of the Murray Developmental Center is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit. The Murray Parents Association, which sued to stop the shutdown, calls it a step in the right direction.
Nearly two years ago, the state announced its plans to close the Murray Center to save money and provide community-based care for residents. A year later, the Murray Parents Association filed a federal lawsuit and was granted injunctions from a federal and state judge blocking the closure and transfer of residents.
But according to Rita Winkeler, the lead plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, the closure process wasn't officially halted until last Friday when the state announced an official delay.
"I think for the parents, this has been a really big just kind of a feeling of relief because they were still contacting parents, calling parents, saying we are closing Nov. 30 no matter what anyone says," Winkeler explained in a phone interview.
The Tamms Supermax prison saw a similar situation last year, when Gov. Quinn ordered its closure and faced a lawsuit from the employees union. That suit was unsuccessful.
Tamms shuttered on Jan. 4 but is not completely empty. Corrections Spokesman Tom Shaer says there is always someone in the building on fire watch and a few staff members are there from time to time to perform maintenance. Those workers are employed by nearby prisons.
The cost of mothballing Tamms was estimated to be approximately $16,835 for last month. The cost of running the facility for September 2012 was approximately $1.6 million. Shaer estimates the total savings to date to be approximately $11 million, and expects the Tamms closure will save the state $27 million in fiscal year 2014.
AFSCME officials, the union that represents Murray and prison (Tamms) employees, disagree with state leaders and released the following statement:
"We would argue that the closures from last year, in DOC in particular, saved no money as they were proposed to do, and have worsened conditions both working and living in the remaining system as we said they would. The department's own staffing, headcount, overtime, and assault figures show this very clearly."
IDOC responded in a written statement that "Goals accomplished by the closures were delayed seven months by the AFSCME lawsuit, costing tens of millions of dollars in lost savings. Overtime increased because the transfer of staff from Tamms and Dwight was also delayed by the union suit. Further, assault figures actually show prison safety has improved. Serious assault was down 35% in Fiscal Year 2013 and continues to decline. "
This January, the Carbondale Adult Transitional Center was also shut down by the governor. The leased facility does not cost the state anything now, saving Illinois. oughly $650,000 so far. That closure is expected to save $1.3 million in fiscal year 2014.
The Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro also sits mostly empty. One assistant chief Engineer is assigned to the facility full-time. According to information released by the Department of Juvenile Justice, the average monthly cost to keep the facility maintained is $6,200. In December 2012, the last month the facility was operational, expenses totaled $101,000. However, the average during the six months the Murphysboro IYC was open in fiscal year 2013 was approximately $300,000 per month. Officials estimate the state saved approximately $6 million last fiscal year and say $8 million will be saved the next fiscal year.
It's an outcome family, friends, and even employees of the Murray Center hope to avoid.
"The vast majority of them are still there just hanging on because they believe in what we have. We have a treasure there that we can't let it be lost," added Winkeler.
Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, released the following statement:
"We are committed to closing the Murray Developmental Center as part of the re-balancing process to transition people with developmental disabilities from out-dated institutions and into the community. For far too long, Illinois has relied on an outdated system of care for people with developmental disabilities."
Smith goes on the say community care is significantly less costly. She says the average annual cost for Murray Center is $219,379 per resident, while the average annual cost for a Murray resident living in the community is estimated at $100,000.
She also describes how numerous studies show residents living in the community have a better quality of life than those living in large institutions.
"Smaller settings allow individuals to become more involved in their community, attend church and decorate their own, private rooms as they wish," said Smith.
She adds those individuals would still receive the necessary 24-hour care they need.
AFSCME leaders point out that the federal money that currently supports the clients and the Murray Center is about to be handed over to what they describe as unscrupulous private operators.
"The governor's own inspector found conditions in the first of these homes to come online reprehensible and dangerous to the residents. And the supposed cost savings there are meager and unproven," said spokesperson Eddie Caumiant.
A new closure date for the Murray Center has not been set, but Smith insists the facility will ultimately shut down. Murray Center employees will be offered job vacancies as outlined in the union contract.
The next hearing on the federal case is scheduled for Jan. 6 in Chicago.
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