Advocates celebrate the announced closure of the Howe Developmental Center

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

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 and patients 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 or (708) 633-5992. Kristen also blogs about Tinley Park at



CHICAGO (October 14, 2008) – Thousands of Illinois residents with physical disabilities are a step closer to having the freedom to select the type of long-term care services that best fits their individual needs thanks to a recent federal court ruling. U.S. District Court Judge Joan H. Lefkow granted class action status in a lawsuit that charges the State of Illinois is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for persons with disabilities in the State by offering long term care services in large institutions but not in smaller community settings.

“The judge’s decision is an enormous step forward,” said Ed Mullen, a lawyer with Access Living, and co-counsel in the suit. “People with disabilities have the right to choose to live in integrated community settings that best fit their needs. That choice must remain with them, not with the State.” Access Living is Chicago’s Center for Independent Living and works toward the full equality, inclusion, and empowerment of people with disabilities.

In 2007, five individuals with physical disabilities living in nursing homes sued Illinois State officials for the state’s failure to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This ruling means that thousands of Cook County residents, in addition to the original plaintiffs, will benefit from the relief obtained in this lawsuit,” said Karen Ward, Senior Counsel for Equip for Equality, and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. Equip for Equality is the federally-mandated protection and advocacy agency for persons with disabilities in Illinois.

The lawsuit seeks an order permitting people with disabilities in Cook County to access long-term care services in their own homes or in community-based settings rather than nursing homes. The lawsuit charges that warehousing persons with disabilities in nursing homes segregates them from their own communities and deprives them of economic, social, and educational opportunities, as well as their privacy and dignity. The vast majority of non-elderly nursing home residents in Cook County, all of whom are people with disabilities, would prefer to receive long-term care services in their own homes, apartments, and communities instead of a nursing facility.

“Unnecessary institutionalization in nursing facilities not only denies people their fundamental right to live in a setting of their choice, it takes away the opportunity to participate in the rights and responsibilities of American life,” said Benjamin Wolf, the associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Under Judge Lefkow’s ruling, the plaintiff class is comprised of “all Medicaid-eligible adults with disabilities in Cook County, Illinois, who are being, or may in the future be, unnecessarily confined to nursing facilities and who, with appropriate supports and services, may be able to live in a community setting.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Illinois officials to:

• Ensure that nursing facility residents in Cook County are assessed for community long-term care services, both at admission and regularly thereafter;

• Inform nursing facility residents of home- and community-based long-term care options and alternatives; and

• Provide eligible nursing facility residents with long-term care services and supports in the community, rather than requiring individuals to submit to nursing home placement.

“I want an opportunity to make my own choices about how I live and to be more independent,” said plaintiff Kenya Lyles, who currently resides in a Chicago nursing facility. “In the nursing home, I have to eat when they tell me to and I can’t visit my family and friends without permission.”

The plaintiffs are represented by three public interest agencies -- Access Living, Equip for Equality, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois -- as well as Stephen F. Gold, a national disability rights lawyer based in Philadelphia.

This is the third community integration class action filed against Illinois State officials by Access Living, the ACLU of Illinois and Equip for Equality. Ligas v. Maram was filed on behalf of people with developmental disabilities living in large, private, state-funded institutions. Williams v. Blagojevich was filed on behalf of people with mental illness living in large, private, state-funded institutions, where at least 50% of the residents have a primary diagnosis of mental illness.

U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
Case No. 1:07-cv-04737
Colbert et al v. Blagojevich et al