News 4 is investigating Missouri's decision to invest 20.3 million dollars into a state run institution, while other states are shutting them down. The money will be used to build new facilities at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in North County.
Advocates for the developmentally disabled say the money is a waste, and could be applied to healthier and cheaper options to care for these individuals.
Jackie Swinnie told News 4 her son lived in an institution for years, but before his death he moved into what's known as a community based setting. Jimmy lived with two roommates in an apartment, and thrived in the environment. Swinnie described the change as "night and day, institution night, and community living day."
Doug Riggs was appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to be an advocate for people living with developmental disabilities. Riggs would like to see state run institutions closed, saying the residents are "citizens of the United States being incarcerated without a crime."
Missouri's institution population has been dropping for years, and today there are only 600 people living in the 6 remaining institutions. Riggs would like to see that number drop to zero, and believes the state's decision to invest millions into an old concept is a failure. "This is like spending money on eight track tapes when everyones downloading from I Tunes," said Riggs.
The state's director of mental health says the 144 residents at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center have lived there for more than three decades. Keith Schafer says many of their guardians are elderly, and his office is honoring their wishes by giving them a safe place to live. "We are continuing our commitment for those medically fragile people," said Schafer.
Schafer concedes it would be cheaper to integrate the residents into a community based program, and those alternatives are explained to guardians. According to the Department of Mental Health it cost taxpayers an average of 5 hundred dollars a day to live at Bellefontaine. Advocates for community based living say it costs between 2 and 3 hundred to live outside an institution setting.
Although Missouri is working to lower the number of people living in institutions, other states have either eliminated them.
Click here to see Georgia's settlement with the Department of Justice over state institutions.
Click here to see the state of Minnesota's apology to residents who were housed in state run institutions.
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