Misericordia campus concerned about funding amid state budget crisis

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's no secret that budgets are being tightened in all types of social service agencies.

People from all over the country came to Chicago this week to speak up for various facilities which assist the disabled population. Many of them are worried that dollars may dry up over outdated ideas.

Residents of Chicago's Misericordia Heart of Mercy Center could soon find themselves at the center of growing controversy. Some advocates for people with intellectual and physical disabilities are worried about what they call a "disturbing trend" in federal funding. They say in recent years, the emphasis has been on expanding so-called stand-alone residential housing for clients at the possible expense of large campus facilities like Chicago's Misericordia.

"If the government rules that services that we provide are inadequate and everyone must be out in the community, I feel it's ridiculous, not only the loss of many agencies but the residents involved would definitely be injured by it," said Sister Rosemary Connelly, executive director, Misericordia Heart of Mercy.

Connelly has been executive director of the highly-respected Misericordia campus in Rogers Park for 46 years. She fears looming regulation changes and funding recommendations, which she says are fueled by memories of a time when many large facilities were simply warehouses for people with disabilities.

"That's where the trend began, in opposition to those big, neglectful institutions that were typical of the past. They are not looking at what's available at present," Connelly said.

That's the message behind the Together for Choice Conference held here last week. Disability advocates and representatives from 25 states who want to make sure people continue to have a choice in the types of facilities which are available to their loved ones.

"It's giving us the opportunity to pull together many like minds, people that are providing excellent services whether it's a campus setting, a farm setting, individual homes in the community, whatever it is as long as it's for the people that we serve," said Geana Connelly, Misericordia administrator.

"You can be big and good or big and bad. You can be small and good or small and bad. It all depends on the people that are operating these services and staffing that is within those services," Sister Connelly said.

The people at the conference say they just want legislators to remember that the primary concern should be the quality of care, not the size of the facility.

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