A national trend to move people with developmental disabilities out into the community and away from campus settings like Misericordia has forced the institution to lobby the state and federal government to create a unique license that would allow it to continue to operate.
“We have opponents who use us an example of an antiquated service that segregates their residents and that we’re pulling the services for disabled people back to the 1900s where they had those warehouses for people just because we’re big,” said Mercy Sister Rosemary Connelly, the longtime director of Misericordia, 6300 N. Ridge Road.
On its 31-acre campus and in the community, Misericordia serves more than 600 children and adults with mild to profound disabilities.
“We are probably one of the only, if not the only, agency in Illinois that has a continuum of care from skilled nursing to 10 houses out in the neighborhood and about 22 houses on the campus,” Sister Rosemary told the Catholic New World. “Now there is a national trend that says everyone — no matter how disabled they are — belongs in isolated houses in the neighborhood. We stand in contradiction to that. We have children and we have adults that function anywhere between nine months and seven years old mentally. We would never, never put them out in isolated houses.”
To be able to continue to serve its residents both in the campus setting and in off-campus houses, Misericordia worked with legislators and supporters to pass House Bill 6304 and Senate Bill 2610 that establish a new continuum of care license that recognizes the unique services Misericordia offers.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has to approve the two bills and Sister Rosemary is confident he will.
The last step is obtaining acceptance of the license from the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. The state and federal government each provide 50 percent of grants for the residents’ care so CMS approval is necessary.
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the lobbying arm of Illinois bishops, said he expects CMS will approve the new license.
“I think the state has recognized that Misericordia is a unique service delivery model. It incorporates both care that falls under what they consider institutional and it also involves community-based care, which is where the field is going for people who provide care for those who are mentally disabled.”
The new license identifies Misericordia for being the unique entity that it is, Gilligan said.
“It does deserve its own licensing structure so it can continue to operate,” he said.
ARC, Equip for Equality and Access Living all publically opposed the bills but Sister Rosemary said Misericordia isn’t trying to get out from under any regulations.
“The bill would give us the freedom that if someone in the outside homes got sick to bring them back without going through all kinds of bureaucracy,” she said.
The 10 houses out in the neighborhood are homes for higher-functioning people. Those residents regularly go to the Misericordia campus to work and participate in numerous activities and social events with other residents and with outside volunteers. They are never isolated.
“Because they have the campus, they live very, very good lives,” Sister Rosemary said. “They have friends, some of them for the first time. Some parents say they can’t get them to come home because they’re so busy with their social lives.”
The dignity and rights of people with disabilities are increasingly threatened by a society that discriminates and views them as a burden, Pope Francis said.
When Mercy Sister Rosemary Connelly walked into Misericordia Home in August of 1969, it was a facility for children up to age 6 with developmental disabilities on the South Side of Chicago.
Parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago are moving beyond “including” people with disabilities in their congregations, instead working to find ways to help those with disabilities and their families find a true sense of belonging.