Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Last State Insitution in Michigan: The Mt. Pleasant Center

For many who care for or work with people with special needs, "institution" is a dirty word. There are many negative connotations associated with that word. Those negative connotations include isolation, rejection, abuse, straight jackets, and sedation.

Fortunately, in the seventies, around the time that this mom of a special needs son was born, institutions became less of the norm in regards to managing the cases of those who were physically and neurologically different. Before the seventies, there seemed to be two choices: send the child away to an institution or keep the child at home like my aunt did (the best choice for her gentle son with cerebral palsy.)

Currently the emphasis is on placing the individual with special needs in the community. Various types of therapy that evolved in the late twentieth century have helped to make this possible. Speech, occupational and even physical therapy help to make individuals with special needs more independent.

Further, most of these individuals with special needs have social workers that help to insure that their needs are being met. Some people live in group homes and some live in their own apartments. Some are still kept at home.

The option of institutionalizing an individual is quickly fading away. Since the 1970s, twelve state institutions in Michigan have been shut down. Only one remains left open in my state. It happens to exist in Mt. Pleasant, the city where I live.

In the past week two articles (Part I and Part II) have appeared on the front page of Mt. Pleasant's newspaper, The Morning Sun. The articles are about the efforts by various advocacy groups to shut down the center. These advocacy groups include the Michigan Disability rights coalition, United Cerebral Palsy and Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, and the ARC of Michigan.

According to the article, the efforts to place residents in the community have resulted in the number of residents at the center being far past its peak. Less than a hundred and fifty individuals with special needs reside at the Mt. Pleasant Center. The occupants newest to the center are thirty-nine individuals who have been deemed "criminally insane" by the courts.

Not everyone wants the center to be shut down. The families of some of the individuals residing at the center are concerned what would happen to their family member if the center was to close. Most of these are moms who say that their adult son or daughter does not deal with change. Most say they cannot keep their offspring at home because of challenging behaviors and that there is no other appropriate place to send their challenged loved one.

I, too, recognize that not all individuals with special needs can live independently or even in small group homes. There are some who need constant care in a facility designed to handle severe challenging behaviors. Ideally, this facility would be a place where these individuals are seen as human beings who deserve the best possible care.

On the other hand, advocacy groups have a reason to be concerned about the way the center operates. In 2006, an article appeared in the center about a man with autism in his thirties who died of internal injuries. He was found submerged in a bath tub. It looked like an innocent drowning, but an autopsy report said otherwise. As I have not seen any follow-up stories to this case, I believe the homicide investigation remains open.

I've never been to the Mt. Pleasant Center, which is located on a campus with fifteen buildings. Some say it is run down, but others say it is a nice place to be and that the staff at the center are "wonderful, caring individuals."

If I had to guess, I would say that the center will remain open for years. The name, however, may change. So will the general status of the occupants. Individuals identified as "criminally insane" are mandated to be placed somewhere. Unfortunately, there is no clear mandate on how to care for those with severe behaviors and no way to predict what will happen to these individuals and their families.


Anonymous said...

I can't even begin to count how many people told my mother to institutionalize my sister after she had her stroke at age six. I had the same thing happen to me when M was out of control and we could not seem to help her. I don't know where people thought these places were but I was always livid when it was brought up.

Anonymous said...

My adult daughter with Aspergers syndrome, among other things, is one of those residing at Mt. Pleasant because of NGRI court order, for the last 3 or 4 tears. It is by far the best thing that has happened to her. She has a small job on the grounds, oppotunities for occasional shopping and outings (although these are somewhat reduced because of staff shortages), on site religious opportunities, regular health services, dances and other socializing opportunities. The grounds are large and open, with different levels of freedom that can be earned. She has an on-site caseworker who is very accessible, even though we are no longer her legal guardians, and a regular schedule of "classes". There are enough people so that if she doesn't get alomg with a client or staff member, she has choices, and places where she can go to be alone. Rules are reasonable and enforced consistently. Her outlook is very positive because she knows she can earn back lost privileges, and is not made to feel like a bad person. I believe that in a setting like this, there is more accountability expected of staff. The staff is great, especially considering what they must deal with, and there doesn't appear to be a lot of turnover. We are only able to visit 6 months of the year, but for the first time we have peace of mind. I know she is safe, and not hurting others or stealing. I hope she stays indefinitely. She says she is happy there, but would like to leave, only because she thinks she will once again have access to her hundreds of toys, and thinks she will have a personal driver to take her wherever she wants to go. When we explain that won't happen, she is perfectly content to stay. She still has episodes of stealing and violence occasionally which require intervention (making a group home placement even more unlikely). She is happier there than she has ever been, including the brief time she had her own apartment. Mt. Pleasant is the best place for some clients. Peggy

J said...

To Marla: Like you, I don't think insitutions should be for children. But I do think there should be viable solutions for families of adults with severe challenging behavior.

To Peggy: Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad your daughter is content to be where she is.

As for the group homes, I think there is something to said about high turnover rates of employees, low pay and perhaps less accountability than what the state-run Mt. Pleasant Center has.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth....Mt. Pleasant Center employees were told on February 12th that it is closing. I have worked there 13 years and at Caro Center 20 years before that. The people that live there will be either put in homes or moved to Caro and the date we were told this facility would be close is October 10th..or close to that day.

Anonymous said...

To Jules and others,

It saddens me to think you live so close but have no clue of the MPC, "the center". Take a drive by or better drive thru. Sure there are old historical buildings that are just sitting there, some are used for storage, but would cost multiple of dollars to upgrade and renovate even if they were needed to be used. But, the current buildings and grounds are in very decent conditions and are well kept. MPC is not this dark, dingy cold-feeling of a "institution" as many make it out to be. Its rather "homey" and the clients can have a lot of amenities or belongings to feel just like the comforts of being home. Staffing are great and yes at times, more would be better, that is so more opportunities can be reached. MPC has a wide range of clientele, with most being very agressive, behavioral, sexual and self-abusive, all of which at times can be very difficult to deal with. If polled of the clients that live there, I would bet most would tell you that they "love" their home and don't really want to move into a group home. Many clients that have been placed either find that they don't get as many choices once into a group home, fun activities are not obtained and many have "acted" up just to be returned to MPC. Many clients have been there a long time and have a security, no different than you or I living in our own home, and therefore is un-fair that someone above them can make decisions to up root them from their home. The community needs a place to be able to resort to when a person is in need, whether is a behavioral, sexual or court ordered. Many parents and families are very happy and content with the exceptional care that MPC has, and most or some have had there child or loved one in a group home setting and it didn't work. What people don't realize is that everyone that lives at MPC is still very different in there own way....that's what makes us all our own individuality!!! I know that MPC is on the verge of closing and unfortunately for myself and the clients we will be without a job and there homes. I feel so sorry for the clients that I take care of, and for Gov. Jenny who has no clue as to what her decision is doing to so many people involved. Thank you to the people that support MPC.

P.s., Just remember the bible says there will be a day that we all have to answer to "our decisions in life"....God Bless and take care.