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updated: 1/19/2012 4:55 PM

Illinois governor to close 2 state institutions

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Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that he plans to close a Tinley Park mental hospital and a Jacksonville center for people with developmental disabilities as he ramps up efforts to move people out of state institutions and into group homes or other kinds of community care.

As the push continues, Quinn hopes to move 600 people out of institutions over the next 2 years. That would eliminate the need for up to four hospitals and developmental centers, aides said.

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Quinn's office emphasized that the goal is to improve quality of life for people who depend on the state for care. But doing away with costly institutions should also save money. They predicted closing facilities in Jacksonville and Tinley Park, which together employ about 550 people, would save nearly $20 million.

Many advocates for people with mental illnesses and disabilities support more use of community care and less emphasis on institutionalizing people. But some family members fear the change will be mishandled or their loved ones will wind up in new institutions that are further from home. Unions and local officials generally oppose closing institutions because of the loss of jobs.

"It's wrong to cut mental health and disability services for men and women in dire need," the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said in a statement.

The administration presented the plan as a final decision.

No public hearings are planned, said spokeswoman Brie Callahan, and there's no need for a review by the legislative panel responsible for issuing advisory opinions on proposals to close state facilities. Lawmakers and the public got their chance to speak out last year in a series of hearings on a broader Quinn closure plan that ended up being shelved, she said.

"Ultimately, this is an executive branch decision," Callahan said, "but we've done it with a lot of input from the General Assembly and a lot of responsiveness to the concerns they raised with us in the fall."

The Legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability recommended in November that the Tinley Park hospital be kept open, partly because of the need for mental health services in Chicago's southern suburbs. The commission also voted against closing the Jacksonville facility, citing its importance to the local community.

However, those recommendations involved quick shutdowns in response to a lack of money. Lawmakers eventually supplied the money and the closures were canceled. It's possible the legislative commission might have reached different conclusions if it had been looking at a long-term plan like the one Quinn offered Thursday.

The announcement was made while Quinn was on a trip to Washington. Callahan said it was pure coincidence that details came together when Quinn was unavailable to present the decision himself.

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