AFSCME voices concerns about meetings Choate Center's future addressed

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME, Council 31 says that secret meetings have been conducted to discuss the fate of facilities including the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

"Meeting in secret with no public input or scrutiny, a small handful of top Quinn administration officials and state legislators is plotting to close state-run psychiatric hospitals and residential centers for individuals with profound developmental disabilities," AFSCME Council 31 stated in a news release.

The news release, dated Jan. 16, was posted on the council's website.

The future of the Choate Center also surfaced briefly during this week's regular meeting of the Anna City Council.

During the meeting, which was Tuesday evening, Anna Mayor Jim Cross indicated that he is not optimistic about the future of the center. Cross said that based on information he has received, the center is going to be closed.

In its Jan. 16 news release, AFSCME stated that the  group’s first targets are the Jacksonville Developmental Center in Central Illinois and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Chicago’s south suburbs, followed by others including the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna.

The news release said that Quinn’s attempt to close the Jacksonville and Tinley Park facilities last fall was rebuffed by the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, COGFA.

COGFA held packed public hearings where health advocates, family members, local elected officials, law enforcement, civic and business leaders strongly objected to the closures and the administration’s failure to ensure appropriate alternatives for individuals now served by those facilities.

Quinn then pledged an open and inclusive planning process to evaluate the role of state psychiatric hospitals and developmental centers going forward.

“We have to do this in a way that’s carefully done, that works with the community, that works with family members,” he told the news media in November.

"Instead, the tiny group of top administration officials and state legislators held four closed-door meetings with no public notice or opportunity for input," AFSCME stated.

AFSCME said the group included Quinn’s senior adviser Jerry Stermer, health policy adviser Michael Gelder and Kevin Casey of the state Department of Human Services, along with senators Heather Steans, D-Chicago, and Carole Pankau, R-Bloomingdale, and representatives Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, and Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville.

“I agreed to participate in what I believed would be an open and deliberative process to serve the best interests of the people of Illinois,” Rep. Watson was quoted as saying.

“To the contrary, there was no public input and a predetermined conclusion. When I objected and sought to open up the process, I was strongly criticized by the governor’s staff and denied access to basic documents. This is no way to govern or consider important issues for our state.”

"Rather than considering how best to serve the individuals with acute mental illness or severe developmental disabilities who rely on state centers, the Quinn administration utilized a crude multi-factor evaluation system designed to ensure facility closures," the AFSCME news release stated.

"A draft matrix obtained by the union showed the administration simply ranked each psychiatric hospital and developmental center from 1 to 5 on various factors – many of them subjective and others irrelevant, such as when the facility was built – then added the numeric ranks together to yield a 'score,' with the highest-scoring facilities targeted for immediate closure," the news release continued.

"It is appalling that the governor’s office and a small group of legislators would shut out public input and silence the voices of those who make state developmental centers home,” said Rita Burke, president of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, IL-ADD, the umbrella group of parents’ associations at the centers.

“We know better than anyone, and care more than anyone, about the services and the settings our loved ones need to live and thrive. For a handful of legislators who are not intimately knowledgeable about our centers and their residents to push for their closure is reckless and unworthy of our state.”

“I am disturbed to learn of yet another scheme to close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Marlow Colvin, D-Chicago.

“Mental health and developmental centers provide essential health care services in communities across Illinois,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31.

“When these facilities are threatened, what’s at stake is life or death for men and women who need intensive developmental services or treatment in mental health crisis and have nowhere else to go. The closure push appears based on politics and budget considerations, not what’s best for individuals, families and communities. It’s grossly irresponsible to plot to close these facilities behind closed doors.”

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