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Pioneer Center faces possible shutdown; loss of services expected in coming weeks

McHenry County's largest social service agency would need $400,000 to stay open

McHENRY – If the Pioneer Center for Human Services doesn't raise $400,000 immediately, the agency might have to close its doors in the next few weeks.

The announcement came from Pioneer on Friday stating that the organization is evaluating "aggressive" program cuts and transfers of services to other agencies in an attempt to stay in business.

"At the end of the day, we're just trying to make sure that the continuity of the services are maintained so that the clients can continue to get the services,” said Mike Moushey, Pioneer Board chairman.

The center operates 18 behavioral health programs, 14 developmental disability programs and 17 group homes and saw 4,800 clients last year.

The center has about 300 employees, Moushey said, and has cut 15 percent of its workforce since July.

What programs might be cut are not yet known, Moushey said, but Pioneer likely would stick to its original focus on intellectual developmental disabilities.

"We’re just at a point now where if we get support to transfer some of the behavioral health programs, we can continue to support the [intellectual developmental disability] programs and take care of those clients, because they don’t have any other options," Moushey said.

The causes leading up to the center's "crisis" were like the "perfect storm," Moushey said, with the state's budget impasse being the main driver.

According to Pioneer's annual report, nearly 61 percent of its funding comes from the state. Moushey has said the state owes Pioneer more than $1.5 million.

Moushey also has said Pioneer experienced some internal billing problems and has seen turnover of upper-level management, including former CEO Jackie Wells and former CFO Jeff Kurth.

Moushey attributed the third cause to the McHenry County Mental Health Board's decision a few weeks ago to deny a funding request from the agency and a decision to move adult psychiatric services and traumatic brain injuries programs to other providers. The move meant Pioneer cut programs serving more than 1,200 clients.

Officials said as of Monday, the Madison Group home will close and merge with the Wheeler Group Home. Two weeks later, traumatic brain injury services will transition to the Epilepsy Foundation of North Central Illinois. On March 18, Pioneer will shutter its adult psychiatric programs, which will transition to various other agencies.

In November, the agency closed an in-house workshop designed to give about 150 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities a place to work. At the same time, Pioneer officials said they doubled the number of community-based outing opportunities, and made changes to its vocational program to include classroom and community time.

Over the years, Pioneer has merged with or picked up services from other agencies including the Public Action to Deliver Shelter in 2006, and Family Services when it closed in 2012.

Moushey said there is a "significant" concern for Pioneer's clients, who need the support of the community.

"It's like any kind of service you would need," Moushey said. "If you don't get the help ... obviously they're not going to be in a good position."

The release from Pioneer said the agency is working with the McHenry County Mental Health Board, the Illinois Department of Human Services and additional social service providers to care for the clients.

Mental Health Board Executive Director Scott Block said right now, the board doesn't have absolute clarity from Pioneer on what services are being discussed for transfer to other agencies.

"We are willing to offer insight and advice," Block said. "And also we are very open to working on new contractors and providers to fill in some of these new voids.”

Filling those voids will take time, though, Block said, and he doesn't believe that a few weeks' notice would be enough time for any provider to assess their situation and decide if they could provide services, or give the state time to respond.

Donations can be made at www.savepioneer.org or sent to Pioneer Center for Human Services, 4100 Veterans Parkway, McHenry, IL 60050. Contact Marilou Niggemann, interim director of development, with questions at 815-759-7128 or mniggemann@pioneercenter.org.

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