July 28, 2009
As Governor Pat Quinn searches for unaffordable programs to cut from the state budget, the fate of the troubled Howe Developmental Center in Tinley Park deserves close attention.
Howe, a state-run facility for the developmentally disabled, was decertified by federal authorities in 2007 after reports of substandard care and safety violations, including deaths of residents in unexplained circumstances. As a result, it no longer receives federal funding under the Medicaid program. Since decertification, the State has lost $40 million in federal dollars that would have gone to Howe and continues to lose $2.2 million each month. Howe is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged violations of the rights of institutionalized persons.
The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) wants to close the facility and move the approximately 289 people now living there to places that would qualify for federal funds, such as community settings or other state-operated developmental centers. According to state figures presented to the Governor’s Taxpayer Action Board last spring, it costs an average of $186,573 a year to treat a patient at Howe, compared with $53,291 in community living arrangements and $19,852 for home-based services. Many advocates for the disabled also believe that residents could be better served by closing Howe and trying to integrate them into the community.
On April 28, 2009, the State’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 9-3 to support DHS’ recommendation to close Howe. “In the final review, the overall cost of maintaining Howe without Medicaid reimbursement, and the safety concerns for patients residing at the facility were substantial factors in the Commission’s final decision,” Co-Chairmen Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg and Representative Richard Myers wrote in a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders.
However, the proposed action has triggered strong opposition from unions that represent Howe employees and from some families of disabled residents. Governor Quinn decided not to make a decision until after he received a report from consultant Anne Shannon, whom he hired to take another look at Howe.
Shannon turned over her report to the Governor several weeks ago, but he has not made it public and has not indicated when he will make a decision. Opponents and supporters of Howe are waiting for his announcement about the facility’s future.