State to close home for disabled, fate of other centers in doubt

APPLE CREEK, Ohio - Another state home for the mentally ill will shut its doors this week, and the fate of Ohio's 10 remaining institutions that treat mentally retarded and developmentally disabled patients remains in question.

Apple Creek Developmental Center, near Wooster in rural Wayne County, has been relocating its residents to other centers in anticipation of Saturday's closing.

Gov. Bob Taft decided in 2003 to close Apple Creek, along with the Springview Developmental Center in Springfield, which closed last year, to save $23 million a year.

Families, guardians and advocates of the mentally retarded and developmentally disabled opposed the decision.

It still upsets Roy Miller, 82, who was forced to remove his daughter, Nancy, from Apple Creek, where she had lived for 23 years. Nancy Miller was born with Sturge-Weber syndrome, an incurable neurological disorder.

"The state of Ohio takes better care of a murderer than a handicapped child," the father said. He and his wife, Frances, have placed their daughter with five other women in a group home near Akron.

The debate over these institutions will intensify as the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities drafts a blueprint to possibly close or consolidate some of its 10 remaining centers.

A $116,000 state-commissioned report released last month said reducing the number of state institutions would allow the agency to shift services to community-based programs, following a 30-year national trend. The report did not recommend specific centers for closure or say how many should close.

In Ohio, 1,600 people live in developmental centers, an 84 percent drop since the peak of 10,173 in 1965. At the same time, 3,377 employees work at the facilities.

"As far as I can see, there's no need for them," said Jeff Moyer, 56, of Cleveland, whose younger brother, Mark, was severely disabled at birth and spent 19 years in state institutions.

Moyer has assumed guardianship of his brother, who is now 51, functions at a preschool level and lives in a house with two other men.

Agency director Kenneth Ritchey said the state must continue be involved.

"For the foreseeable future, there's a role for developmental centers," Ritchey said. "The state has an obligation to be the safety net."

Conditions at state institutions have improved over the decades. Ritchey said the goal of these centers when they were created in the early 20th century was to cure people, but they became little more than warehouses.

Families ill-equipped or unwilling to deal with a disabled loved one frequently dropped them at places like Apple Creek. Some never returned.

But by the 1970s and 1980s, better-trained staff members were hired, and residents and their families were given more choices, including moving out of institutions and back to communities.

Today, the state institutions are smaller, less impersonal and feel more like group homes. Care is more individualized, standards are higher and abuse less frequent.

Bill Green, Apple Creek's superintendent, said closing the center is heartbreaking.

"It doesn't feel good on many levels," he said. "Knowing we finished well is the best."

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