Life After Habilitation Centers
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Life After Habilitation Centers

Date: March 23, 2011
By: Brian Pepoon
State Capitol Bureau

Phasing back residential habilitation centers is one of the major issues state legislators will face this year.
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Wrap: Central Missourian Angela Gourley sees the shift.

Her son Carter is six years old.

Carter was born with the neurological disorder called hydrocephalus.

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Description: "He's got a very mild cerebral palsy, um, he has a visual impairment, and he has asperger's, which is a form of autism."

Missouri lawmakers are looking at a bill that would determine a plan for consolidating or closing down Missouri's six habilitation centers, which house people with mental disabilities.

Tenants would  be transitioned to community based living groups with 2 to 4 residents per house.

Carter Gourley attends a public school in Camdenton, Camden County.

Camdenton's inclusive education style puts children with needs in classrooms with other students.

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Description: "There's been a lot of energy and effort put towards getting Carter used to that environment so that he can be indpendent and walk around."

Angela says teachers turn his mistakes into lessons rather than exclude him.

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Description: "If he does something interesting with another peer, you know, they'll correct him at that time, and you know, make that a lesson, rather than pulling him out."

First District representative Craig Redmon is co-sponsoring the bill.

He says he sees community based living as a way for people to integrate rather than segregate.

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Description: "Basically, it takes individuals, and instead of institutionalizing them, it puts them in a setting that they can function in society."

Fifty years ago, Redmon says it was not uncommon for people with developmental disabilities to be institutionalized and segmented from society for their entire lives.

More than 600 Missouri residents currently living in habilitation centers could be transitioned into community-based assisted living if centers are closed.

Angela Gourley says the shift to community living in recent years has been successful even in an older generation.

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Description: "I know a lot of older parents that had their child in an institution, and chose, made the choice to get them out and overwhelmingly their response is positive."
She says community living gives people life skills they could never receive in habilitation centers.

At the bill's first hearing, some families and friends who are opposed to the measure say they don't want to see the habilitation centers close.

Lawyer John Ahlquist spoke at the hearing on behalf of his friend Paula, who lives in the Bellefontaine habilitation center.

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Description: "There are daily classes in the subject matter which is appropriate for their level of functioning. Compare this to a two- or four-bed community apartment, which can offer none of the amenities."

Ahlquist says he thinks group living would not provide proper care.

Talitha Weiss also spoke at the meeting.

Weiss has a cousin living in the Nevada habilitation center.

She says community living will deprive these people of the family bonds they created while living in habilitation centers.

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Description: "They watch movies together, they do activities together. They're used to having their families, and now their families are being torn apart, and I don't think that's right."

Disability services committee chair Jeff Grisamore says the switch from habilitation centers to community based living won't affect the service people receive.

He says the money spent in centers will follow every individual into their community living.

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Description: "They would absolutely be required to continue to provide that same level and care of services for them, whether it was home or community-based setting with an independent supported living, or whether it was in their home, or whether it was in a group home."

Grisamore also says that while it is not the main reason to look at an updated model, the cost-effectiveness of the program is also appealing.

For Angela Gourley and her son Carter, it is all about who he is, not who he could have been.

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Description: "He'll go up to somebody, he knows no social boundaries, and so he'll just go up to some stranger and start talking to him and telling him a joke."

She says what makes Carter special is that he doesn't care what people think, and that he just does what he wants.

And her thoughts about her son living in a habilitation center?

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Description: "The thought of institutional living for my son, I mean, I don't think it was...a thought in my head."

Carter has normal dreams, she says.  He dreams of having his own family someday and having kids.

But until then, Gourley says Carter is happy being a normal kid.

From Jefferson City, I'm Brian Pepoon.