JEFFERSON CITY — Protest signs created a backdrop Monday for those who oppose the impending closure of Bellefontaine Habilitation Center.
Bellefontaine, home to more than 300 mentally and physically disabled citizens, is located in St. Louis. It would be closed by Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed budget cuts.
Family and friends of Bellefontaine residents and members of the staff held a news conference to protest the closure before a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services.
If Bellefontaine closes, residents will be moved to private housing, but families of residents oppose the plan, saying private facilities cannot provide the same specialized care.
Rep. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis, had tears in her eyes at the news conference.
“It would be very detrimental; people are going to die,” she said. “Some of the clients have never been in any other environment.”
Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, expressed similar concerns. “This is a life-or-death issue for these individuals,” he said. “They are scared. You can see it in their eyes.”
Mickey Slawson, president of the parents association at Bellefontaine, said it would be nice if Blunt visited Bellefontaine.
Slawson’s daughter, Carol, has lived there for 38 of her 48 years. Carol has the mental capacity of a 3 year old. Slawson said residents have everything they need at Bellefontaine.
“They have everything they would have in an outside community, but it’s their community, and they are safe,” Slawson said.
During the hearing, Walsh said Blunt is over-estimating how much the state would save by closing Bellefontaine.
Walsh testified that the costs of closing Bellefontaine would exceed its 2005 operating budget of $12 million. Dorn Schuffman, director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, confirmed that but said savings would eventually come.
“I think there will be a mix, a range, of contracts that we contract for individuals,” he said. “Over time, obviously, there will be savings because we won’t be maintaining that large campus.”
Schuffman said it would take at least a year to find suitable options for all Bellefontaine residents.