Pete Benner (Part 1)

Executive Director, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Council 6

Planning for Closures

(Run time 3:04)

The Department had done a number of proposals to basically close facilities, not necessarily to improve care or to have a serious program for normalization.

It was just more that they wanted to save money. And what started to change all that, I think, was when the Welsch v. Likins decree came out in '74, '75, somewhere in there, where the court simply said the State had failed to provide a minimum level of care for developmentally disabled people.

And I think the vast majority of our members, who were the line workers at the then-called State Hospitals, agreed with Welsch v. Likins that they were under-funded, they did not have the capacity and the staff and resources to provide the care people needed.

And for a number of years there I think we saw the staffing levels, the funding for the… what by now were being called Regional Treatment Centers improve. That started to fall apart with the funding crises of '81, '82, '83. We went through very, very bad times.

There were special session after special session, the revenue wasn't coming in, and as part of one of those the legislature in its wisdom simply decided to close Rochester. And it was not based on public policy reasons. It was not based upon "This is a good change of treatment" for both DD, I think there were also mental - mentally ill and chem dep folks there at that point.

It was not that there was better treatment. It was that they just wanted to save the money.

And so Rochester got closed. Patients got - clients and patients got redistributed to other facilities. Staff got redistributed to other facilities.

I think the lesson that we as a union took out of that, and that a lot of the ranks of our workers took out of that, is you can close a hospital. Hastings had closed earlier, but that really wasn't the same thing. You could close a major facility.

And this facility was in Al Quie's … then Governor Quie's old congressional district. And heck, if they can take that one out, they can take out almost anything.

Rudy Perpich won the next election in '82. And Rudy, I think, on a personal basis had a strong commitment, and clearly his brother, George, had a strong commitment, to finding a way to place DD clients in a less restrictive alternative.