Advocates celebrate the announced closure of the Howe Developmental Center

By Kristen Schorsch, Southtown Star Staff Writer

For years, a coalition of disability advocates have fought for the closure of Howe Developmental Center, an institution in Tinley Park where more than 20 residents have died since 2005. On September 5, the Illinois Department of Human Services will host a news conference to announce the closure of the institution.

The story below is from the Southtown Star.

Howe, Tinley mental health center to close
September 5, 2008

BY KRISTEN SCHORSCH Staff writer

Selling a prime piece of real estate and not being able to get recertified appear to be what's prompted the state to announce it will close a pair of troubled facilities in Tinley Park, state lawmakers and union representatives say. The Howe Developmental Center and Tinley Park Mental Health Center, which have been stripped of their federal dollars for providing substandard care and lax recordkeeping, could close their doors by next summer.

John Cameron, director of community relations for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents about 600 Howe and mental health center workers, sharply criticized the closures. Up to 800 people could lose their jobs, Cameron said.

"Obviously we think this is a very bad decision," Cameron said, adding that the facilities suffer from bad management. "At the very time they're closing the center, they're also cutting back on community services."

Gov. Rod Blagojevich slashed about $40 million from mental health services and $10.1 million from developmentally disabled services this year, budget records show.

A Blagojevich spokeswoman and state Department of Human Services spokespeople did not return several phone messages Thursday.

Cameron and State Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest), who said she was taken aback when she heard about the closures this week, said Howe residents and mental health center patients likely will move to other state facilities or into group homes. Other sources say the state plans to close Howe completely and build a new mental hospital in the south suburbs.


The 600-acre site is prime real estate along Harlem Avenue near Interstate 80 in a rapidly developing area near the Tinley Park Convention Center. It's not clear whether the state would sell the property or where any replacement facilities would go.

Crotty, who said a lack of recertification led state officials to close the health center campus, stressed that services for people with mental and developmental disabilities need to be in the Southland. Whatever money the state receives from selling the sprawling campus should be put into building new facilities or boosting community services, Crotty said.


"I feel strongly that if people (have disabilities) they should be in a community setting if they choose to do that, but for some that may be not better served in a community, then I feel that we should have a safety net for them," Crotty said.


Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki deferred comment until today.

Advocates for years have called for closing Howe and the mental health center and moving residents andpatients to group homes.

Howe lost $30 million in federal dollars last year for not properly caring for residents. The mental health center lost its federal certification last year for flawed recordkeeping.

Equip for Equality, a federally mandated watchdog group for people with physical and mental disabilities, has said 24 people have died at Howe since 2005, attributing several deaths to persistent abuse and neglect. The group has pushed the state to move residents to group homes, where they claim residents would receive better care.

The state pays about $140,000 a year for a person to live at Howe, according to Equip for Equality. It would cost about $40,000 a year for a resident to live in a community-based home. DHS spokesman Tom Green has not disputed those numbers.

Green has said the state has transferred about 70 residents to group homes in the last two years.


It's a move Chicago ADAPT coordinator Rahnee Patrick is happy to see.

"It's something that we've been fighting for for a long time," said Patrick, whose group advocatesfor people with disabilities.

Kristen Schorsch can be reached at kschorsch@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-5992. Kristen also blogs about Tinley Park at blogs.southtownstar.com.

What's next
Illinois officials are expected to hold a news conference at noon today at Tinley Park Village Hall, 16250 S. Oak Park Ave., about closing the Howe Developmental Center and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.