Thursday, October 13, 2011

Illinois : Group preps for Oct. 24, 2011 Jacksonville Developmental Center hearing

A five-hour “marathon” meeting requires planning.

That’s why a group of concerned people met Wednesday to discuss ways to mobilize the community in its effort to save the Jacksonville Developmental Center at an Oct. 24 hearing.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability will hold a hearing at 5 p.m. Oct. 24 at Illinois College’s Bruner Recreation Center, 1121 Edgehill Road. The meeting is expected to last several hours — at least five, according to Lonnie Johns, who was involved in a similar effort to save the Jacksonville Developmental Center 25 years ago — and buses will be there to transport people from other parking areas.

The Jacksonville Developmental Center employs about 420 people, who provide round-the-clock care for an estimated 200 people with developmental disabilities. Gov. Pat Quinn has suggested closing it and other state facilities by the end of February.

About 35 people showed up on Wednesday, representing a broad spectrum of Jacksonville residents — educators, religious representatives, state employees, city officials and representatives for state politicians.

Ideally, the group wants to see 2,000 people attend the hearing.

“If we show up with just 200 people, it looks like we don’t care,” said Michael Dillion, AFSCME Council 31 staff representative.

The numbers are feasible, as a circulating petition has already garnered more than 18,000 signatures.

The goal is to present a petition with 20,000 signatures or more.

The group encourages different community groups to share their perspectives on the impact of the Jacksonville Developmental Center, including personal stories from residents’ relatives, from employees and also from business leaders regarding the impact the closure could have economically.

Jenny Geirnaeirt, Jacksonville alderman and legislative director at the district office of State Rep. Jim Watson, said she would prefer to have those who would like to speak at the hearing let them know.

AFSCME Council 31 Regional Director Jeff Bigelow was pleased with the response because the issues surrounding the proposal make it “a battle on many different fronts,” he said.

Politicians are about to enter into the Illinois fall veto session on Oct. 25 and a union arbitrator has ruled that closing the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other state facilities would violate a no-layoff agreement signed last year.

In addition to shuttering the center, Quinn proposed closing Tinley Park Mental Health Center, Singer Mental Health Center, Chester Mental Health Center, Jack Mabley Developmental Center, Logan Correctional Center and Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro.

There has already been strong representation at some of the other hearings, Bigelow said.

About 350 people showed up at a hearing for the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford and about 200 in Murphysboro for its hearing on the Illinois Youth Center.

Not only could the closing of the center impact those currently employed and the community as a whole, it could potentially traumatize evicted residents who do not adapt well to change and in many cases would be left with few places to go, Bigelow said.

On top of all that, the governor has announced no plans for how the people will get services if it closes at the end of February, Bigelow said.

Jeffery Lamb, a mental health technician at the Jacksonville Developmental Center, shared a story about a man he’s worked with in his 14 years there. It took 11 years, but after taking walks with him around the facilities, after crossing the street with him to get a soda and snack from the gas station, after reaching the point where they could sit in a restaurant together, the man was able to go to a group home.

“It does start to feel like family,” Lamb said. “You can’t work with these folks and not form an emotional attachment.”

This kind of attachment does not exist in nearly all private group homes, argues Bigelow, who has worked with developmental centers for most of his 25-year-tenure with AFSCME.

Dealing with many of the situations at these kinds of centers requires skill, ability and loving care, he said.

“As an employee, it’s nice to see the community response,” Lamb said. “It’s encouraging. If we can just get everybody here together, I think we can really make a difference. I think we can keep this open.”

#Source: My Journal Courier, Jacksonville IL : by JAKE RUSSELL