Legislators question state-run institutional housing

Updated 7/14/2011 5:23 AM

Three state representatives Wednesday night assured advocates for people with disabilities their voices will be heard if they speak in unison about the need to close more of the state's eight institutional housing facilities for people with disabilities.

And advocates say they're ready to band together and contact legislators about the benefits they say the state could realize if more institutions are closed.


Large state-run institutions are more costly than smaller group homes that can provide adequate care, even for people with the most profound developmental and intellectual disabilities, said Tony Paulaski, executive director of The Arc of Illinois, a public policy advocacy group.

"Some of the more quiet legislators are starting to realize we're wasting money on state institutions," Paulaski said. "We don't believe that anyone, regardless of the severity of their disability, cannot be supported in their community close to family and friends."

A plan for deinstitutionalization was supported by a past general assembly's resolution, said state Rep. Patricia Bellock, a Westmont Republican.

The problems arise in implementation of the 2008 blueprint for closing the facilities and providing more funding for smaller group homes, said state Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Glen Ellyn Republican,

Bellock and Pihos spoke at a meeting including several members of Elmhurst Republican state Rep. Chris Nybo's legislative advisory council, which gathered to discuss closing the institutions.

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"I think we agree there's a problem," Nybo said.

Finding solutions is the next step, and Nybo said he will continue working with his citizen committee to decide on actions he can take.

Bellock told advocates, including parents of children with developmental disabilities, to coordinate efforts and trust that if they call, email and snail mail their lawmakers, their concerns will be heard and action could be taken.

Legislators may need to be educated about why moving people out of state-run institutions could be beneficial, Bellock said, and she encouraged staff of organizations such as Easter Seals of DuPage and the Ray Graham Association, a DuPage County organization that works to empower people with disabilities, to provide those lessons.

Pihos said she recognizes advocates are trying to allow people with developmental disabilities "to live their lives to their full potential, and that's what we want for all of them."

The challenge lies in deciding how to provide and fund that care and if state-run institutions still fit in, lawmakers said.

"Institutional days have come and gone," Paulaski said. "It's a model that's beyond its time and needs to adjust."