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After persistent problems, lawmakers urge action at Illinois facilities

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(The Center Square) – After years of abuse allegations against a state-run mental health facility, Illinois lawmakers are seeking changes to be made as soon as possible.

The Office of Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services released a report last month recommending changes to the fix issues of abuse that have been occurring at the Choate Mental Health and Development Center in Anna, Illinois.

According to the OIG, more than 1,500 incidents of abuse and neglect were reported over the last decade. Allegations include physical harm and lack of attention to the patients’ well-being.

The report also shows a cover-up culture in which employees would collude with each others and provide false information to investigators about incidents at the facility.

On Tuesday, ProPublica released another report looking into the ongoing abuse allegations at Choate. New allegations include a technician hitting a patient with a broom causing bleeding from the patient’s right ear.

On Wednesday, several Illinois Republican lawmakers hosted a virtual news conference and urged the state to address the issues and to do it in a timely manner.

“We need new leadership and directors. When you have a facility that has everything going on like Choate, and the director is still there, I think that’s a problem,” said state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville. “We have gone on record asking for a new director, and we believe this should happen. We have to speed up the reevaluation of the Inspector General coming in and inspecting.”

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said the state has shown a lack of care for the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Everyone on this Zoom call wants nothing more than to ensure our state lives up to that duty. The sad reality is that this administration has failed in that duty,” Bryant said. “Time and time again, we have seen this administration fail to fully prioritize our developmentally disabled community.”

Meier went on to highlight an instance in which a resident of a Community Integrated Living Arrangement facility confided in him about being sexually assaulted by a staff member.

“After being there several years, he finally opened up and said, ‘I wonder what happened to that one worker. I hope somebody did something to him because he raped me,'” Meier said. “That’s what happened in the CILA, so it is happening to our developmentally disabled across the state in DHS care.”

State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, has requested a sit down with lawmakers, DHS, and workers from Choate to get to the bottom of these allegations.

“Let me say that again, we need administration officials, DHS officials, and relevant staff members on the record to answer the questions about the failure that has led to the outrageous reports of abuse, neglect, sexual assault and outright torture of residents living in the care of the state,” Severin said.

Meier said their plan will help the Choate residents and residents of other facilities who have been dealing with similar issues.

“This plan is an urgent step to put a stop to the abuse and neglect that is now being reported at Kylie, Ludemon, Mabley and Shapiro developmental centers,” Meier said. “The Help Protect Us and Improve Our Home proposal is a realistic plan to make the improvements needed at a majority of our state development centers.”

In April, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he had set money aside in this year’s budget to improve care for those throughout the state.

“That’s why I’ve proposed historic new investments in behavioral and mental health care in this year’s budget,” Pritzker said. “We are creating our first ever portal for families that are seeking care so that they can learn about the resources that are available to them and be matched with what best meets the needs of their family members.”

Last month, IDHS Secretary Grace Hou responded to the OIG report and stated their goal is to fix these issues.

“IDHS continues to diligently respond to any and all allegations of misconduct, in partnership with your Office, the State Police, and the Illinois Department of Public Health,” Hou said. “I also want to note the outstanding, compassionate, and life-supporting work that the vast majority of the more than 600 dedicated employees at Choate do on behalf of residents and patients every day.”

The annual budget for the Choate facility is $49.8 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30, according to the OIG report.

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