State decides LDC won't house developmentally disabled after all

Dana Heupel

An advocate for closing state institutions applauded an announcement this week that four new 10-bed units at the former Lincoln Developmental Center will not be opened for developmentally disabled residents.

“This is a hopeful first step,” said Don Moss, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Illinois. “We’ve been fighting long and hard for the downsizing and elimination of institutions in our state.”

Placing developmentally disabled residents in a state institution, even a small one such as Lincoln Estates, “is just counter to the direction of services for people with disabilities,” Moss said. He said he and other advocates would prefer to see them housed in community settings.

Grace Hou, assistant secretary for the Illinois Department of Human Services, told a group of disabled protesters in Chicago on Tuesday that Gov. Rod Blagojevich had decided against opening the units, known as Lincoln Estates, for developmentally disabled residents.

Moss said he is pleased to see Blagojevich “resist the pressures from state employee unions and a handful of parents” to continue to place developmentally disabled individuals in institutions. He said even the most severely disabled individuals are better served in community settings, at a lower cost than in an institution.

Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Thursday that officials from the largest state-worker union had heard nothing specific from the administration.

“Obviously, we believe that intensive services for the developmentally disabled should be available in Lincoln and that the Lincoln Estates project is a way to provide those services in a state-operated setting that is integrated into the community,” Lindall said.

He said Lincoln Estates was the result of “a long collaborative planning process that resulted in an exciting plan to provide those services.”

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, whose district includes the former LDC site, has advocated for opening the buildings to the developmentally disabled. He was a member of the 22-person task force Blagojevich appointed to recommend what to do with the site after LDC was closed in 2002 in the wake of reports of patient abuse.

“We met two years for nothing, I guess,” Bomke said Friday about the task force, which recommended constructing the four 10-bed units.

He said a DHS official had assured him several months ago that the units would serve developmentally disabled residents.

“A month from now, they might change their minds again,” Bomke said.

He said he believes many former residents of LDC can be placed in community settings, but some with severe disabilities or behavior problems may be better served in state facilities.

“It’s not one size fits all,” Bomke said.

Tom Green, a DHS spokesman, said Thursday that DHS has not decided what it will do with Lincoln Estates.

“We’re still looking at options for using the new buildings that were built there,” Green said.

In Blagojevich’s first campaign in 2002, he pledged to reopen LDC in some form. He has since backed off that promise after pressure from advocacy groups.

Dana Heupel can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or dana.heupel@sj-r.com.