Illinois Gov Reverses on Building Mini-Institutions

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

SPRINGFIELD, IL--In a surprising reversal in his position, and a potentially risky political move, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich hinted Friday that he might abandon his efforts to open new facilities on the campus of the former Lincoln Developmental Center.

"We are rethinking that policy and issues relating to community based healthcare opposed to institutionalizing the disabled," the Democrat told reporters.

"I don't know whether or not I was right the first time around," he added. "As I learn more and more about that issue, I'm listening to the different arguments and rethinking, maybe I was not in the right place a couple of years ago."

While running for office three years ago, Blagojevich made a campaign pledge to construct four buildings that would each house 10 people with developmental disabilities. To be called "Lincoln Estates", the facilities would be built on the grounds of LDC, which Governor George Ryan closed in 2002 following ongoing allegations of abuse and neglect.

Disability rights groups have opposed the plan from the beginning, saying that building new facilities on the old campus would unnecessarily segregate people with disabilities in violation of federal discrimination laws. In March, Equip for Equality, the state's federally-mandated protection and advocacy office, asked the federal government to withhold Medicaid and other funding to the state if it followed through with the plan.

Lincoln Estates had been scheduled to open later this summer. In his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, however, Blagojevich included enough money for maintaining the facilities, but not operating it. The legislature immediately followed with a proposal to promote alternative uses of the state-owned property.

Civic leaders in the town of Lincoln and Logan County quickly criticized the governor's change of heart, as did former LDC workers and parents of former LDC residents.

Community living advocates welcomed the news.

"We are very pleased that the governor seems to be reconsidering his original promise," Don Moss, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois, told the State Journal-Register. "I would say, governor, you're in the right place now and you were in the wrong place then."

"The very long range goal is to shut these facilities down," he said. "We feel there is no one who cannot live in the community."

Laura Miller, managing attorney at Equip for Equality, told the Quad-City Times: "Funding large institutions like Lincoln would be an enormous step backward, isolating people with developmental disabilities and diverting funding from community-based housing."

As of June 30, 2005, there were 2,763 people housed in the state's nine developmental centers. According to various news reports, all of the people who had been scheduled to move into Lincoln Estates are currently housed in other state-run facilities.

The Republican candidate for governor, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, has already promised that she would open Lincoln Estates if she is elected.

"Governor rethinks LDC pledge" (State Journal-Register)
"Gov. puts LDC plan in limbo" (Lincoln Courier)
"Lincoln decision could put Illinois facilities in limbo" (Quad-City Times)
"Lincoln Developmental Center -- Illinois Governor Strives To Return To The Past" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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May 16, 2006 - InclusionDailyNews Department | Email this story


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