Real reform means closing Howe

Sheila Romano May 17, 2009, 4:48am

On April 28, the Committee on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a bi-partisan panel of 12 state lawmakers, issued a recommendation to close Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park.

While this was certainly a step in the right direction, the Committee's recommendation is advisory, meaning that the final decision is now completely up to Gov. Pat Quinn. The decision provides a real opportunity for our reform-minded Governor. By closing Howe, Gov. Quinn can begin the long-awaited process of reforming Illinois' system to better serve people with developmental disabilities with far more efficient community-based supports and services.

Howe's closure is a very difficult, emotional issue for all parties who are advocating for what they believe is best. The people of Illinois, our elected officials and policy-makers must reflect on whether there is a place for a failed institution that has lost all federal funding due to repeated allegations of substandard care and neglect. We believe that Howe does not serve the public interest.

Taxpayers, whose tens of millions of dollars are wasted to keep Howe open, are failed. Howe residents, who are not receiving the quality care and supports they deserve, are failed. Illinoisans with developmental disabilities, who are given limited choice for state supports and services by a system that over relies on institutions, are failed. Change is needed.

By closing Howe, the Governor can lessen Illinois' chronic dependence on institutions and begin the transition to a system that better integrates smaller, community-based options, where more Illinoisans with developmental disabilities can receive quality supports and services. Illinois lags significantly behind the rest of the country in providing inclusive, integrated settings. Illinois institutionalizes more people with developmental disabilities than almost every other state. Illinois spends a smaller share of its money on small community-based services and supports than every other state. Illinois currently has a waiting list for critical supports and services of almost 17,000. The disparity between our state and the rest of this nation is unacceptable.

We have a plan for action. Our plan, the Blueprint for System Redesign in Illinois, would fundamentally reform Illinois' broken system for developmental disability services by supporting the closure of Howe, phasing out four of the remaining eight state-run institutions over seven years and replacing them with smaller, community-based supports and services. Individuals with developmental disabilities could receive better support, more attention and a higher quality of life. Taxpayers save money when the state focuses its resources on smaller, more tailored, community-based options, as opposed to institutions.

This is real reform. The Blueprint is the state's first comprehensive framework to update an archaic system that is failing tens of thousands of people. We can lead, we can invest smarter and we can help more. The Blueprint provides a way forward for Illinois by helping stakeholders and the General Assembly begin transforming a status-quo driven, failing system into a national, fiscally responsible model that provides individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity for a higher quality of life.

Allowing Howe to continue operation would prolong the status quo. As other states phase out their institutions, we hope the Governor will make a timely decision that puts Illinois on the path to positive change.

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