Changes for Residents, Staff and Community

“Muscatatuck Center's Closing Costs Region Millions” read a 2004 headline in The Columbus Republic. “The economic cost of Muscatatuck State Developmental Center’s closure can be measured in millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs lost.” The article went on to connect the closing to an estimated $60 increase in the next year’s county property tax bills. During her local stay, DOJ representative Sue Gant reports that she was frequently asked if she realized what she was doing to the economy. “The community was so dependent upon Muscatatuck.” Belma Eberts, an 82-year-old resident of nearby North Vernon, looked back at the closure as a time of seismic change. "People just took it for granted. Muscatatuck was there and it was going to be there forever and those kids were going to be taken care of forever, but all of a sudden they aren’t."

"The week that we heard that Muscatatuck was closing was like a funeral. Everybody just walked around in a daze,” relates veteran employee Patty Cook. ‘It’s been a tremendous stress among the staff.” Also interviewed in 2004, Cindie Underwood was part of the staff’s transition team. Many Muscatatuck employees’ wages compared favorably to factory work, she pointed out, and “the State has wonderful benefits.” For numerous families, jobs at Muscatatuck were a longstanding tradition. “A lot of people are kind of steeped in the generations,” Cindie observed. “You know, this is where my mom worked, this is where my grandma worked.”

The closure was adamantly opposed by some families and employees. In 2001, a group of Muscatatuck family members filed a suit against the state, citing community facilities as inadequate to meet their children’s medical needs, and won a court order to delay the closing. In the first years after the closure announcement, the accidental deaths of several ex-residents received prominent news coverage. Cindie Underwood articulated the mixed feelings accompanying the institution's demise. Not all residents were likely to benefit, she believed. The State "started off promising the moon, the stars, the planets to families,” she said, “telling families they would have a choice and telling families that the services would be at least as good if not better than they have here." At the same time, Cindie expressed her excitement for the many individuals whom she believed would thrive in their new environments.

The settlement agreement with the DOJ made sure that “all the elements of a good service system were in place, including risk management and quality assurance systems and case management,” asserts Sue Gant, so that “people wouldn't just sit at home all day.” Randy Krieble’s career had allowed him to see the harsh realities of institutional life as a front-line worker in the 1970s. As a state official three decades later, he was immersed in the closure process, and then followed the lives of ex-residents. “For the vast majority of the people, they are living a much more enriched, healthier, safer life,” Randy observed in 2012. “It’s dramatically, dramatically different.”

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