A mental health facility that has generated a lot of controversy over the last five or six years, and was under consideration of being shut down entirely, has been given new life.

The Bellefontaine Habilitation Center in St. Louis is getting $9 million from the Missouri Housing Development Commission to build four group homes on the Bellefontaine campus.

The homes will serve 32 clients out of the 144 at Bellefontaine.

“Many of these folks are currently at Bellefontaine. They are very medically fragile individuals. They have developmental disabilities, but they may also have very severe medical conditions like the need for tube feeding, for example; and other very detailed medical conditions that make it difficult for them to live in environments that aren’t especially tailored for their needs,” said Department of Mental Health Director Keith Schafer.

He acknowledges Bellefontaine has been in the news over the past half decade, for allegations of abuse and neglect, questions about its function, and concerns over its funding.

“There was initial consideration by the previous administration to close Bellefontaine Habilitation Center. Ultimately that administration decided that probably wasn’t necessary and began to look for ways to continue operation of Bellefontaine,” Schafer said.

Schafer says this isn’t a normal source of funding for his Department, and that’s a promising sign for the future of Bellefontaine.

“This is the first time to my knowledge this is the first time the MHDC has supported this kind of effort and that’s to the credit of Governor Nixon and his people that have worked closely with MHDC to help them understand how important it is to serve these folks,” Schafer said.

Shafer says the announcement is, of course, great news for the clients as well.

“It creates a lot of energy and excitement on the part of the families and the guardians and I think for the residents themselves. This will be a major, major improvement. This is the last group of residents who were living in a congregate setting. Everyone else was living in a group home setting,” Schafer said.

Bellefontaine is one of six state facilities serving people with moderate to severe developmental disabilities.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]