Families oppose bill that would close mental health rehabilitation centers
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Families oppose bill that would close mental health rehabilitation centers

Date: January 30, 2012
By: Josie Butler
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB1077

JEFFERSON CITY - The sister of a resident at a state-run home for the "intellectually disabled" testified against a bill that would integrate their residents into community life. 

Mary Vitale's brother lives at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center -- a facility in the St. Louis area for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

"We are extremely alarmed at the relentless efforts to close habilitation centers," Vitale said in an emotional testimony. "The very specialized care and services he receives at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center has allowed him to attain and maintain his highest God-given abilities. The only reason my brother is alive today is this specialized care."

The bill would require the Department of Mental Health to develop a plan to move intellectually disabled persons out of state-funded facilities and into community based living.

Dolores Sparks, Chair-Elect of the Congress on Disability Policy, said she believes that the state should assist people in transitioning to an acceptable environment.

"We believe it's important for Missouri to carefully, thoughtfully and proactively plan for the needs of all the people it serves," said Sparks. 

She said she believed the proposed bill would accomplish this.

Sparks said she believes Missouri is doing a good job transitioning individuals into the community. She said the challenge is the cost of care in the institutional settings.

According to the Department of Mental Health, the average cost of supporting individuals in the community was $211 per day in 2011. The average cost for a resident in an institution can range from $353 to a high cost of $578.

However, Vitale said the community cost of living estimates used by the Department of Mental Health are inaccurate. 

Many expenses such as dental, medical, therapies, transportation costs, room and board, and day programming are included in calculating habilitation costs, but not in community costs.

Another argument opposing the bill was from Theresa Barnes, whose son lives in a rehabilitation center in Poplar Bluffs. She said closing the center would isolate residents rather than integrate them.

"Our severely handicapped are victims of multiple disorders and that is why it is so important that they receive the constant care that they currently receive at habilitation centers," Barnes said.

Sparks said these individuals could receive support outside the homes.

"It's really about providing the support the person needs in the environment they need," Sparks said. "That can all be done in the community."

The House bill follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1999, known as the Olmstead Act. This law would transition "people with disabilities into the least restrictive type of care," Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, said.

The House did not take immediate action.

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