Another tragic story of death and neglect in community group home.

Illinois group home provider has license pulled over
‘imminent risk’ to residents

By Patricia Callahan and Michael J. Berens Contact Reporter Chicago Tribune

The Illinois Department of Human Services has revoked the license of a group home provider that was spotlighted in a Chicago Tribune investigation this month, citing the state-funded business for safety problems and “willfully violating the rights of individuals” with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Because of the “imminent risk” to those individuals and repeated failures to correct problems, Human Services chief licensing official Felicia Stanton Gray told Reuben Goodwin Sr. on Monday that she was revoking the license for his eight group homes and daytime training program, all of which have operated under the name Disability Services of Illinois since earlier this year.

In the next two weeks Human Services plans to move 45 adults from Disability Services homes to other community-living options, including group homes operated by different providers, and find new day programs for them, said agency spokeswoman Meredith Krantz.

Goodwin, CEO of Disability Services, can appeal the decision by requesting a hearing before Dec. 23, but Krantz said her department will relocate the residents regardless.

Attempts to reach Goodwin for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. In an interview last month, Goodwin said, “I think we do a good job to make sure people are safe and that the staff is trained.”

The Tribune’s “Suffering in Secret” series revealed this month that the Human Services inspector general’s office bungled a 2012 investigation into neglect allegations at Goodwin’s business, then known as Southwest Disabilities Services & Supports. One story in the series described serious problems dating back more than a decade at different group home businesses run by Goodwin, including two deaths linked to neglect by Southwest Disabilities employees since 2010.

More broadly, the Tribune showed how Illinois has steered thousands of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents with disabilities into a network of state-funded group homes, then routinely obscured evidence of harm from the public. The Tribune identified 1,311 cases linked to abuse and neglect in these group homes and their day programs since July 2011, and 42 deaths in the last seven years.

In Illinois group homes, adults with disabilities suffer in secret

Human Services Secretary James Dimas vowed to reform the investigative process and open previously sealed cases to public accountability. And on Tuesday, Krantz said Human Services is working to fundamentally change the way group homes “are held accountable in order to ensure individuals with disabilities receive high levels of care.”

A week after the Tribune shared its findings with Dimas, the department’s licensing officials fanned out to all of the group homes run by Goodwin’s current business, as well as the daytime training program. State workers immediately closed one Harvey group home because of health and safety violations that included broken windows, insects in the ceiling, a rotted closet door, potential mold in the home, and a light fixture that fell and hit licensing officials during their visit, records show.

At other Disability Services of Illinois homes, inspectors found scalding water, holes in walls, insufficient lighting and bedrooms that were not dry and comfortable, Gray said in a Nov. 28 letter to Goodwin. In addition, adults in various homes had no active day programming activities, and the business billed Human Services for training services that were not supported by state-mandated plans for those individuals, Gray wrote.

In a fragmented oversight system built on giving second chances, Goodwin’s businesses got third, fourth and fifth chances.

Flawed investigations fail victims of neglect in group homes

Equip for Equality, Illinois’ federally empowered disability-rights watchdog, excoriated Goodwin’s businesses in the early 2000s for hazardous conditions and financial mismanagement. The group, which advocates for the type of community living that group homes offer, titled its scathing report, “Why Does an Agency that Profited from Exploiting Persons with Disabilities Remain Taxpayer Funded?”

The state then tried three times to cancel contracts with those businesses, according to Carol Adams, who was secretary of the Human Services Department at that time. Goodwin challenged Equip for Equality’s findings and said he fixed problems in his homes. Officials from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s office intervened to keep Goodwin’s group home network open, Adams said.
Eventually, the public commotion died down. Southwest Disabilities continued operating state-funded group homes, but problems persisted.

In recent years, four arms of state government documented serious concerns about conditions faced by people living in Southwest Disabilities homes. Human Services twice barred Southwest Disabilities from accepting new residents, then lifted those bans after the group homes fixed problems and passed subsequent inspections, records show.

Twice since 2010, Southwest caregivers failed to perform CPR properly when they found adults in their care with no pulse, state investigators found. Both of those residents died.

Southwest Disabilities still faces two civil suits alleging neglect at its group homes. One alleges that a man who needed assistance with meals suffered brain damage in 2012 after workers at a Southwest Disabilities group home on the North Side failed to cut his meat in small pieces, watched him choke, then waited six hours to call 911.

The Tribune investigation highlighted the case of Deron Hardge, a 23-year-old man with autism and a profound intellectual disability whom paramedics rushed to the hospital from his Harvey group home in 2012 in a comatose state, his body icy cold. His mother, Tara Wandick, complained to a state hotline that her son had been neglected and sued Southwest Disabilities after state investigators concluded her allegation was “unsubstantiated” and sealed the case.

Those investigators, the Tribune found, missed clues pointing to neglect and were easily misled by a Southwest Disabilities employee who later said in a deposition that she made up a story to save her job.

Though Hardge’s epilepsy had been well controlled for years, doctors determined he had a severe seizure. When Hardge arrived at the hospital, he had very little of his epilepsy medicine in his system.

Deron Hardge, who has autism and a profound intellectual disability, was moved out of a group home by his mother after he suffered a medical crisis she blames on neglect. His new group home is on Chicago’s West Side.

Quality inspectors from another branch of Human Services found rampant problems with administration of medication during inspections of Southwest Disabilities homes in March 2012, a few days after Wandick complained to the hotline.

But Michael McCotter, who became inspector general in late 2012 and was in charge when the office closed Hardge’s case, told the Tribune he was unaware of that lengthy list of deficiencies, nor did he share his investigative file with the quality inspectors.

In an interview this month, he vowed to begin sharing investigations with Human Services colleagues who oversee the licensing of group homes and their day programs.
He also reopened the investigation of Hardge’s case, citing “questions screaming to be investigated.”
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