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ST. LOUIS -- Patrick Coll, a severely mentally disabled man, will stay put at the only home he's known for 45 years -- the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center.

For years, the state of Missouri has been trying to shut down the center for the state's most severely mentally and physically disabled residents located just southwest of the intersection of Interstate 270 and Highway 367.

But, when Gov. Jay Nixon was elected last year, he made good on his vow to keep open the 100-year-old center that once housed up to 400 residents. It has dozens of group homes on a rambling tract of land where residents have a gym, an Olympic-sized pool and even a therapy room to occupy their time there.

Nixon and the Missouri legislature has earmarked $18 million to build four new group homes for those now living in the center's Elliott Building where a leaky roof has caused severe damage. The money will also go to rehab several other homes on the center grounds that were allowed to deteriorate under former Gov. Matt Blunt's administration.

The administration under Blunt had been trying to shut the center down and disperse all of the residents to private homes or to houses in neighborhoods living with other mentally disabled Missourians. He said the place was dangerous after at least one resident died hours after phoning a relative to say he was being beaten by a staff member at the center.

Blunt's plan met great resistance and, while he pushed the Missouri Department of Mental Health, which oversees the center, to shut it down, the buildings continued to decline. The administration had urged the families to remove the residents. Many did, only to see their conditions deteriorate after leaving the center.

Worried about the shutdown, many of the center's staff members quit to get other, more-stable work. And, the remaining center employees were forced to work overtimes that sometimes included double shifts.

"A lot of the good staff were laid off and a lot of them quit their jobs because of the threats that the center would be closing," said Betty Coll, Patrick's mother and a long-time advocate of the center. "The administrators for the Mental Health department have been trying for years to push my son and all of the others out. They were wrong. They knew they were wrong, but they went ahead anyway."

Coll said that many of the residents forced out to other privately run homes had to return because the private caretakers could not handle their sometimes bizarre behaviors.

Betty Coll is the vice-president of the Bellefontaine parent's association. She was just one of a contingency of parents who conducted a sit-in in Blunt's office in Jefferson City. He spoke to them once and told them he would not change his mind. Bellefontaine had to go, he told them.

"He did not have a clue about people like my son who are very, very vulnerable," Coll said Thursday. "People like him think anyone can tie their shoes and stand up tall. My son could never do those things."

Coll said that while Nixon was serving as Missouri Attorney General, and before he ever ran for governor, he visited the center and listened to what the workers and parents had to say about saving it.

"He was one man who really understood," Coll said. "We had a governor in all these years who really understood the residents and their families and how they felt. He actually stood by his promise to help Bellefontaine."

Last year, the state had begun laying off workers and the parents fought back, accusing the cuts in staff for contributing to residents being harmed. Just before the parents' allegations, several residents got hurt. Among them:

- A resident had to get three stitches to his ear after being attacked by another resident.

- A resident was rushed to the hospital after he shoved a paper clip into his penis. Doctors removed the paper clip.

- A resident had cracked her head on the floor when the seat of a mechanical lift broke. She received nine staples to close the wound.

- A resident of one of the center's apartments was found to have swelling and bruising to his right hand. The injury occurred when a staff member held the arm of the resident, who was fighting a phlebotomist trying to take his blood.

The Post-Dispatch investigated the Department of Mental Health in 2006. The investigation showed that abuse and neglect of mentally retarded and mentally ill residents in state centers, including Bellefontaine, and in private facilities the state supervises. The report chronicled more than 2,000 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect with 665 injuries and 21 deaths in those homes that are overseen by the Mental Health department.

Coll just hopes that her son Patrick, now 53, will always have Bellefontaine to call home.

"This is the best place for them," Coll said of the Bellefontaine center. "They have a park-like center buffered from the hustle and bustle of living in a regular neighborhood where people don't understand what is wrong with them."

Surburban Journals article

State approves money for new Bellefontaine facility
$18 million to come from stimulus funds

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 10:43 AM CDT

The Missouri General Assembly has approved funding to build a new, 52-bed facility at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center.

The state approved $18 million for the facility from $381 million in federal stimulus funds for state projects.

The plans had been in place for a long time, but backers of the center - a residential center for the developmentally disabled - still were holding their breath Thursday when the money was approved, said State Rep. Gina Walsh, a Democrat from Bellefontaine Neighbors.

"It was a matter of philosophy," Walsh said. "Many of the Republicans wanted to give the (stimulus) money back as a rebate to the people. However, we were able to talk with them to make a deal and leave it in."

No time line has been set for the facility's construction. Parents of the center's patients want to have some input into its design and use, she said.

"I can understand that," Walsh said. "They spend so much time up there, they know what the center and their relatives need."

The parents and guardians are "ecstatic," said Mary Vitale, president of the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center Parents Association. The association has struggled to keep the campus open in recent years.

"We're looking forward to this as a time for a new building and refurbishing the campus," Vitale said. "(The facility) will provide a good, nourishing atmosphere."

The parents want some input into the project, she said.

"Hopefully, we'll be able to work with the (Missouri) Department of Health on this," Vitale said.

Post 'Letters to the Editor
Nice letter by Micky

Mr. Robert Stack, head of a community placement company in New Jersey, must still be living in the dark ages. Has he bothered to visit a state habilitation center to see the improvements that have been made over the past 20 or so years.I am so tired of private providers damning the state schoola so rhey can fill their own beds. They make outrageous claims about them but never mention the poor care and conditions in many of the private homes which have been documented by a state audit. .

There are so many untruths in Stack’s letter that I won’t even try to rebut them. I will say that if he would visit the Bellefontaine Habilitation center he would find four bedroom cottages on a lovely well kept campus. There is a workshop. a multipurpose building with a large gym, O/T P/T rooms, program areas and a heated olympic size swimming pool with equipment to lift the severely disabled in and out of the pool. I would not call this a warehouse.
The residents are taken off campus to restaurants, movies, the zoo, ball games, Shriners Circus and many other activities. There is a senior center to meet the needs of the older residents.

Stack calls the state hab centers many derogatory names and says they are shameful.

The families with sons/daughters or siblings at Bellefontaine strongly disagree. My daughter has been well taken care of and while things have not always been perfect where could she go that is. I am grateful for the good care she has received and the dedicated staff who have provided it.

Mickey Slawson

Mother treasures her job: Working at thrift shop makes woman feel closer to her son

Friday, March 28, 2008 4:14 PM CDT

Northeast County-PostStl article

Mars Maynard photo - Volunteer Betty Coll (left) is known as the "chief" of Hidden Treasures Thrift Shop at Bellefontaine Habilitation Center. She started the shop with her sister, Ruth Vondras (right).

Betty Coll estimates that a million items are on display at the Hidden Treasure Thrift Shop. Crossword puzzles and Chinese checkers stacked on shelves tower high overhead, along with glassware, china, electric grills and slow cookers.

Men's and women's fashions, some with original price tags attached, neatly hang from commercial clothing racks. The attire includes wedding dresses and formal dresses, clothing for work and for play.

Knickknacks rest on tables. Lamps are in one corner, baby and children's clothing in another. Blankets, small appliances, barbecue grills, boots, shoes and jewelry are some of the finds, all waiting to be taken home for a song.Coll has priced and sorted every one of the items at the shop, located on Bellerive Road at the grounds of Bellefontaine Habilitation Center.

Pricing and sorting have been her duties since the 1960s, shortly after her son, Patrick, was admitted to the center. Patrick, 40, is severely mentally retarded.

"I tried to get help for him everywhere," Coll said. "He had (uncontrollably) disruptive behavior."

She said her son's physician had told her, "One day Patrick would ruin my younger son's life. A week later, Patrick threw our younger son down the basement stairs."

After Patrick's admission, Coll recalled, "I felt depressed and so sorry for myself. I didn't feel like existing."

She said she "snapped out of it" when listening to a fellow parent talk about her child. Not only did it help the person talking, it also helped Coll, by motivating her to begin activities that could help Patrick.

One activity was establishing the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center Parents' Association. The group runs the thrift shop, which began with a rummage sale Coll and her sister, Ruth Vondras, held after a parents' meeting.

Today, nine or 10 volunteers staff the thrift shop. They look to Coll as their chief.

"If not for Betty and John (Coll's husband of 40 years, who is now deceased), we wouldn't be here," said volunteer Dee Baldetti. "She comes in nearly every day."

For the past 30 years, the parents' association has raised millions of dollars for center residents and advocated on their behalf.

In its first year, the association installed the center's therapeutic warm-water pool. Last year, it allocated more than $36,000 to provide center residents with seasonal parties and decorations.

The group also recognizes outstanding employees at its annual luncheon.

"We (the association) provide things the state can't," Coll said, referring to things like televisions, DVD players and furniture.

The thrift shop is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday. Items are "new or gently used," Coll said.

First-time shopper Lois Elliott of Moline Acres carried neatly folded sheer window panels over her arm as she looked through other items. She was there to get an "overview of merchandise."

"A friend told me about this place last week. There's a lot of stuff to look at," Elliott said.

Coll, who admits to being a senior citizen, describes herself as "not easy. I'm a female Clint Eastwood. Sometimes I remind myself (of Eastwood), even with the language I use."

She said the shop plays an important part in her life.

"I feel closer to Patrick here," Coll said. "Sometimes I drop in to see him, but the big visiting day is Sunday."

If Hidden Treasures didn't take up so much time, she said, "I would probably have my own little shop somewhere."

It might be a shop that carried only stuffed animals, which she loves.

"Did you notice that each stuffed animal has a distinct personality?" Coll asked. "Just to heap them together (the way we do here) isn't right. I would like to see their personalities bloom.

"If you had a place where you could pose them a certain way, they could tell you their story, and you would see their personalities," she added.

Despite her dream, Coll said that little shop never would be a reality.

"This is my job, what I'm supposed to do," she said. "No matter what happens, I will still be in there working for the severely mentally retarded, even if I lose Patrick."

Article in Journal for NCI Award, Community Devp't award to BEtty Coll for Work for Parent's Assoc. BAC

North County Incorporated

Award letter   for BHC Parents Association member, Betty Coll for May 9th, 2008

Their annual Community Development Award Breakfast  is Friday, May 9th @  7:30 Am @ the St Louis Airport Marriott

***   Blunt runs unchecked...**
3/19/2006 article in St Louis Post-Dispatch

 Consultants get No-Bid deal. at rates MUCH highter than those of state workers. Please read the whole article, it's not the first time of money wasting.
per  Post article
by Carolyn Tuft


At a time when state officials complain it's too expensive to keep open a St. Louis-area center for the mentally retarded, they are now paying consultants to help run the facility - at rates much higher than those of state workers who do similar work.

In deals that have angered the state auditor, the state workers union and some patients' families, the Missouri Department of Mental Health has signed, renewed and extended contracts that would allow charges of up to $12 million with the Columbus Organization for advice and staff for the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center since October 2004.

Micky Slawson responds in article..

Mickey Slawson, president of the Bellefontaine Parents Association, said the state failed to replace the roof at the center's Elliot Building, even though the Legislature set aside $1 million for the job. The department simply patched the roof. Now, workers at the Elliot - where the center's most severely mentally and physically disabled live - must use buckets to catch rainwater.

Slawson also said the department recently canceled a contract to fix leaky pipes that could burst in a hard freeze.

"They're just wasting money on things that don't benefit these residents," she said.

1-12-2006  Pres link below for article
State faces suit in closing of Bellefonataine's Hab Center

Post dispatch article

. The Bellefontaine Hab Center isn't the only facility/service in eminent danger.  Also, the Links section is on the left, look for it to be updated with sites helpful to our cause.

** Please note, I have linked to the Missouri Senate and to the MO House Reps. There is a legislator Look-up in both, use it if you're not sure who both is for you. That is the main way to make something happen. They need to be made aware, over and over, what their constituents want, and what the residents NEED.
 To paraphrase Tim Green, "to stand up for those who can't stand up"

  Also added a link to VOR. organization dedicated to ensuring that people with mental retardation and their families are able to access a full array of quality residential services and support options, including community and facility-based care.

Here's some more pics from the Jeff City Rally

What a great report by Ch4 News Monday night
" Bellefontaine closure could end up costing state

09:39 PM CST on Monday, February 28, 2005


FINALLY, it's being reported again that is NOT the $18 milliion savings pablum spewed by the Governor's handlers, it's in the #2-2.3 million range for the State in costs, and matched almost 10-1 by Fed and Private funds!!!!! FINALLY, the words gets out again.

May the Appropiations Committee GET the real figures, NOT the pablum

Please read the comments by Sen Tim Green and Rep Gina Walsh
Here's a response (click again to enlarge letter)from the  Parent's Association Vice-President & RAM President Betty Coll  to Mental Health's 'Rumors unfounded'

Here's a letter from 2/23 From Parent's Presiden Mickey Slawson to the Post-Dispatch
titled, " They have no place to go"

This is from District 69 Representative Gina Walsh

  I think what you are doing is wonderful. I do
not have a web site but post my e-mail address
( as well as my phone
number in Jeff City (573-751-6845) so anyone
that wants to can contact me.
Thanks for the thanks but I am not doing anymore
than anyone else I just happen to be the one they
sent with the message.  Speaking of messages,
Tim Green stood on the Senate floor for 14 hours
in a filibuster. If he said Bellefontaine Hab
Center once he said it 100 times.

 We are fired up here as well we just need to keep
our momentum going for 8 more weeks.


** Way to go Gina & Tim ! 2 more people passionate
and caring, and fighting for our cause

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Free Message Forum from Free Message Forums from

(From Stl Today    (post-Dispatch-Journal web site 2/16/2005)

Editorial: Blunt's plan to close home leaves too many unanswered questions

Initially, the plan held enormous promise. Government leaders had devised an initiative that would "rescue" hundreds of mentally retarded adults from the institution they lived in, one notorious for the poor treatment its residents received. The facility would close its doors for good, and its residents would move to privately run group homes. They would receive more individualized care, and they would finally be free of the abuse and neglect they'd suffered for decades.

It was the plan Washington, D.C., officials had in the 1990s to provide what they thought would be the best care for some of its most vulnerable residents. But years later, it proved to be a catastrophic failure.

A Washington Post investigation revealed hundreds of incidents of abuse and neglect to residents in some of the group homes, 80 percent of which operated on a for-profit basis. Some of the homes were owned and operated by people with dubious backgrounds, including a man with a criminal record.

In the end, many of the relocated residents were no better off than they had been before.

The D.C. plan bears alarming similarity to Gov. Matt Blunt's plan to close the state-run Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in Bellefontaine Neighbors on July 1. Blunt, citing allegations of abuse at the facility, believes its nearly 400 mentally retarded and disabled residents would receive better care in the private sector, in community-based group homes. The governor claims Bellefontaine's closure will save taxpayers $13.8 million.