Southern Indiana Center For Disabled Children To Close - News, Weather & Sports

Southern Indiana Center For Disabled Children To Close

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.) -- State officials plan to close a southern Indiana center for disabled children, based in part on a report that found its services outdated and too expensive.

The state has sent letters explaining the closure to the 55 families who have children at the Silvercrest Children's Development Center, said John Dickerson, executive director of The ARC of Indiana, told The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., for a story published Sunday.

Dickerson said the state also asked his organization, which is an advocacy group for people with disabilities, to call the families to offer assistance as the center nears closure.

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Health, which oversees Silvercrest, refused to confirm Friday that the state would close the center. But the department scheduled a news conference for Monday morning to discuss its future.

State officials plan to talk with the center's staff before the news conference, said state Sen. Connie Sipes, D-New Albany.

Parents of Silvercrest residents said they received calls Friday and have confirmed the closure with staff at the center, which serves Indiana children with severe emotional, physical, and cognitive disabilities.

"I'm outraged. Silvercrest is the only place that has said to us, `We can help you,"' said Carla Stewart, whose 14-year-old son, Kaleb, is autistic and has lived at the center since March.

Dickerson said there is no firm closure date. Instead, staff members will start helping families find the services the children need so they can return to their homes or other community placements.

The $8 million spent annually on the center will be used as a match for federal Medicaid funding, which ultimately will make $24 million available to provide home- and community-based services to more disabled children, Dickerson said.

The ARC of Indiana and three state agencies have been analyzing the center's operations for several months.

The State Department of Health compiled their findings into a report obtained late Friday by The Courier-Journal. The report finds that Silvercrest is ineffective, costly and that "continued expenditures for these results cannot be justified."

In particular, an analysis from the state's Government Efficiency Team said the operation of Silvercrest "is both clinically and fiscally irresponsible."

Andy Zirkle, the health department's risk communication director, would not comment on the report, except to say it "largely speaks for itself."

Former staff members, parents of current and former students, and lawmakers who have long been associated with the center objected to the report's characterization.

Gigi McKnight, who served as the center's special-education director from 1986 to 2004, said no other place in Indiana truly provides the same kind of service.

During her tenure, she said, the staff spent eight weeks living and working with children before making a full diagnosis and developing a plan for their future. She said other facilities conduct their evaluations in a few days.

"Eight weeks gives you a chance to see a child in all of his or her glory that you don't see in a two-day evaluation," she said. "I've never found another place like it."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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