Advocates Give Governor an F, call for closure of Howe Developmental Center

On May 30, a coalition called “Community for All” held a news conference in Tinley Park to raise awareness around conditions at Howe Development Center, which after years of pressure, investigations and initiatives, continue to be deplorable.

In the Fall last year, the Tribune editorialized around Howe, calling for change because 11 residents had died since 2005. Since the editorial ran, another 10 residents have died.

At the May 30 event in Tinley Park, the Coalition issued the Governor a Howe report card (all Fs) and called for the closure of the institution.

Below is the news release issued following the event.

Disability Advocates Give Governor an “F” for
Howe Developmental Center

CONTACT: Mark Karner 708-209-1500

TINLEY PARK, IL (May 30) - The Community for All Coalition, a group of disability organizations from across Illinois, gathered today at the American Legion to deliver a report card to Governor Blagojevich that grades Illinois’ poor record of care and service at the Howe Developmental Center. Howe is an institution in Tinley Park that has been continuously struggling with providing adequate care to its approximately 345 residents with developmental disabilities. The Coalition also issued a directive to the Governor, urging the State to provide community-based options for Howe residents.

“We are here today to call upon the Governor to stop wasting lives, stop wasting money, and stop wasting time. We want Howe residents to be able to move back to their home communities with high quality services that will allow them to live more free and independent lifestyles,” said Larry Biondi, organizer of the event. Instead of spending taxpayer money on cost effective community integrated services tailored to meet individual needs, Illinois relies upon an archaic system of institutions. Our state ranks dead last in the country when it comes to providing community integrated services to its citizens with developmental disabilities,” Biondi continued.

“Our recent investigations into the deaths of 21 residents at Howe documented grossly substandard care,” said Zena Naiditch President and CEO of Equip for Equality, the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy system for Illinois. “The manner of these deaths reflects the truly abhorrent care provided at Howe. How many people have to suffer and die before the State closes this dangerous and outmoded institution,” said Naiditch. “Based upon the blatant violations of the Constitutional rights of the individuals living at Howe, we urged the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Howe, which it has begun,” Naiditch added.
One of the speakers was Amy Walker, a person with a developmental disability who talked about the lack of civil rights at Howe. “It is clear that many people with disabilities at Howe have been treated like second class citizens. They have forced to give up their dignity,” she said.

“The federal government pulled all of its matching operating funds for Howe last year because the facility was unable to meet minimum health and safety standards. Now Illinois taxpayers are picking up the entire tab for operating the facility which now amounts to about $61 million annually,” said Derrick Dufresne, Director of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities. “Think about it. Instead of allocating necessary funding to meet their individual needs in their own neighborhoods, all this money is being spent to place people with disabilities in a substandard facility that severely restricts basic freedoms and potentially exposes them to dangerous conditions,” he added.

“The residents at Howe deserve better. They deserve to receive all the care they need while living in a neighborhood of their choosing. That would allow them to enjoy the freedoms that the rest of society enjoys and would be more efficient and cost-effective for the taxpayers of Illinois, said Lester Pritchard of the Campaign for Real Choice in Illinois. “The state should implement a plan that would enable people at Howe to return to the community with all of the needed supports. Once that happens, we believe the institution should be closed and the money currently expended on its operation should be used to provide the supports that are needed for other people with disabilities to live in a neighborhood of their choosing,” Pritchard said.

Organizations involved with today’s event included Progress Center for Independent Living, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, Equip for Equality, Campaign for Real Choice in Illinois, Institute on Public Policy, Illinois Voices, People First of Illinois, and the Institute on Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois, Chicago.