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Missouri Governor Abandons Plan To Close Institution
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 13, 2007

BELLEFONTAINE NEIGHBORS, MISSOURI--In January of 2005, when Missouri Governor Matt Blunt proposed closing Bellefontaine Habilitation Center and moving its 350 residents with intellectual disabilities into homes in the community, he said he believed those residents could be better treated in the community.

Blunt's proposal came after several dozen reported incidents of abuse and neglect -- and at least one death -- at the state-run institution during the previous year, and after four employees were fired, four more were disciplined, and 47 others were suspended over abuse and neglect allegations.

On Tuesday of this week, Blunt announced that he has reversed that decision, and instead plans to keep the 83-year-old facility open. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the governor said he wants to keep a state-operated program on site to house 24 residents considered to have the most severe needs, and to have a private contractor oversee services for another 120 residents. A new 12-bed crisis unit would also be established on the BHC campus.

The turnaround happened as family members of those housed at BHC and members of the state employee union pressured legislators to keep the institution operating. Those same groups expressed surprise and skepticism this week at the part of the plan that calls for privatizing services.

Patrick Wells, president of the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center Parents Association, told the newspaper that the state ought to make available the 139 vacant beds on campus in order to reduce the residential services waiting list of 507 people.

Calls for shutting the facility came after BHC resident George Holmes, 33, died in August of 2004, a few hours after he phoned his stepmother complaining that staff were beating him. BHC workers and state officials said Holmes slipped, fell, and had a heart attack. A medical examiner later ruled Holmes died from natural causes, but that his heart stopped after he became "extremely agitated".

Holmes' death prompted an in-depth investigation, published by the Post-Dispatch last year, which found more than 2,000 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect -- with 665 injuries and 21 deaths -- at Missouri facilities housing people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities between 2001 and 2006.

"Special Report -- Abuse" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
"Bellefontaine Habilitation Center" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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