Northwest Center for Disabled Is Closed; Move Is Part of Trend to Community-Based Homes

Article excerpt

OVERLAND The state of Missouri recently shuttered Northwest Habilitation Center, a state-run, 80-bed residential care center for developmentally disabled people, the latest step in the state's effort to move residents into smaller, community-based homes.

Missouri's residential care system has long been under scrutiny because of client deaths and criminal mistreatment, and the state has not allowed new admissions to state-operated centers in more than four years. There were 52 residents with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy at Northwest in October.

Residents were moved to other state-run institutions or private homes under contract with the state to care for developmentally disabled people.

The administration of St. Louis-area institutions for developmentally disabled people was consolidated as "part of a continued effort to more efficiently use state resources and facilities," Debra Walker, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health, said in an email.

The closure of Northwest follows that earlier this year of a center in Nevada, Mo., leaving nine centers in operation, three of them in the St. Louis area in Bellefontaine Neighbors, St. Charles and south St. Louis County.

Missouri is one of many states trying to move clients into "community settings," such as private homes. Ten states and the District of Columbia have shut down all of their institutions. Two years ago, an effort failed in the Missouri Legislature to close all Missouri institutions.

"The community settings are more homelike and can be tailored to meet the needs of the individual," Walker said. "Individuals living in the community have more choices for example, where they want to live, what food they eat, how they spend their day." She said some people may still be admitted to the habilitation centers in times of crisis.

Some families, though, say life for profoundly disabled clients is better at state-run facilities where they can get 24-hour care, instead of in homes that are barely regulated.

In 2006, a Post-Dispatch investigation exposed widespread mistreatment of developmentally disabled residents of state institutions and privately run "community based" group homes, resulting in 21 deaths, hundreds of injuries and thousands of cases of mistreatment. Although the death of George Holmes in August 2004 at Bellefontaine Habilitation Center during a struggle with workers triggered the inquiry, the Post-Dispatch investigation found problems with abuse and neglect at the state-run and privately run homes. …