SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that he plans to close a Tinley Park mental hospital and a Jacksonville center for people with developmental disabilities as he ramps up efforts to move people out of state institutions and into group homes or other kinds of community care.
As the push continues, Quinn hopes to move 600 people out of institutions over the next 2½ years. That would eliminate the need for up to four hospitals and developmental centers, aides said.
Quinn's office emphasized that the goal is to improve quality of life for people who depend on the state for care. But doing away with costly institutions should also save money. They predicted closing facilities in Jacksonville and Tinley Park, which together employ about 550 people, would save nearly $20 million.
Many advocates for people with mental illnesses and disabilities said they support more use of community care and less emphasis on institutionalizing people.
"This is absolutely the right step," said Deborah Kennedy, director of abuse investigations at Equip for Equality, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. She noted that some states — 13, according to Quinn's office — have completely eliminated large institutions for disabled people.
But some family members fear the move to community care will be botched or their loved ones will wind up in new institutions that are further from home.
"We're going to fight," said Rita Burke, president of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled. "These are not cattle to be moved out 20 a month. These are human beings and they are going to suffer the consequences if those community services are not appropriate."
The announcement was made while Quinn was on a trip to Washington. Quinn spokeswoman Brie Callahan said it was pure coincidence that details came together when Quinn was unavailable to present the decision himself.
A Jacksonville legislator, Republican Rep. Jim Watson, criticized the governor for not delivering the bad news in person. "Part of leadership is showing up and taking the hits," he said.
Quinn's team said they chose the Jacksonville and Tinley Park facilities after ranking every institution on age, services, economic impact, likelihood of federal decertification and more.
The rankings pointed clearly at which ones should go, said Kevin Casey, director of the state's Division of Developmental Disabilities. He noted the Jacksonville center uses a coal-burning boiler for heat that costs $1.2 million a year and is so old that replacement parts must be manufactured from scratch.
However, Quinn isn't releasing those rankings or the information used to calculate them.
No public hearings are planned either, said Callahan, and there's no need for a review by the legislative panel responsible for issuing advisory opinions on proposals to close state facilities. Lawmakers and the public got their chance to speak out last year in a series of hearings on a broader Quinn closure plan that ended up being shelved, she said.
"Ultimately, this is an executive branch decision," Callahan said, "but we've done it with a lot of input from the General Assembly and a lot of responsiveness to the concerns they raised with us in the fall."
The Legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability recommended in November that the Tinley Park hospital be kept open, partly because of the need for mental health services in Chicago's southern suburbs. The commission also voted against closing the Jacksonville facility, citing its importance to the local community.
Those recommendations involved quick shutdowns in response to a lack of money, however. Lawmakers eventually supplied the money and the closures were canceled. It's possible the legislative commission might have reached different conclusions if it had been looking at a long-term plan like the one Quinn offered Thursday.
Quinn's announcement was criticized by the major union for state employees, and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Chicago Democrat, warned of the "devastating" economic consequences of closing the Tinley Park Hospital. Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard said he was "heartbroken" about a decision he sees as politically motivated.
The mayor of Tinley Park, Edward Zabrocki, was less concerned about the economic impact. He said the hospital sits on valuable land that might someday be developed into an economic plus for the area, so long as the state helps clean up asbestos at the site.
Associated Press reporter Shannon McFarland contributed to this report.
Christopher Wills can be reached at http://twitter.com/chrisbwills.