Interestingly, there is no effort to address the crisis in recruiting and retaining direct support professionals in any of these proposed laws. We will take a look at the proposed legislation.
Both Secretary Dimas and Director Fenton will be featured speakers at The Arc’s Leadership Conference later this week at the Hilton in Lisle.
Story from the Chicago Tribune below.
By Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan Contact Reporter Chicago Tribune
State lawmakers are proposing six new laws that would strengthen licensing requirements and oversight for thousands of group homes for adults with disabilities following a Chicago Tribune investigation, “Suffering in Secret,” that exposed substandard conditions and widespread harm.
The legislative measures, state officials said, are part of a continuing overhaul of the state’s sprawling and fragmented group home system, which shelters more than 12,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
At the urging of the Illinois Department of Human Services, lawmakers are hoping to shore up investigative shortcomings and eliminate a glaring licensing loophole that surfaced late last year when state officials, citing “imminent risk” to residents, revoked the license of Disability Services of Illinois, a private network of group homes serving 45 residents in Chicago and the south suburbs. The Tribune series had spotlighted a neglect case and serious problems at the business, which went by the name Southwest Disabilities Services & Supports until last year.
What was supposed to be a smooth transition of residents from Disability Services to new providers devolved into chaos, with attorneys for the state accusing group home employees of thwarting their efforts to relocate residents. A Cook County circuit judge gave Disability Services executives a deadline to turn over residents to caseworkers, but that deadline came and went, leading to a frantic search for the missing adults.
Disability Services’ chief executive had testified last month that those individuals went home with family members, but in many cases he couldn’t provide names of those relatives or contact information. Caseworkers for the state didn’t have up-to-date photos to share with police or emergency contact details, hobbling the search efforts.
Ultimately, all the residents were found and either moved to new homes or given supportive services with relatives.
Four of the six bills focus largely on the revocation process by demanding that group homes maintain contact information and pictures of residents, allow unfettered state access to residents undergoing transitions to new homes and establish an attendance and destination log to track when residents opt to spend the night at another location, such as the home of a relative or acquaintance.
Rep. Charles Meier, one of three Republican legislators sponsoring the array of bills, said, “These are people. Even if they can’t talk or even if they can’t walk, they deserve the best life possible.”
Legislation introduced by Rep. Terri Bryant seeks to expedite and alter the hiring process for new investigators at the inspector general office for Human Services. Bryant told the Tribune that her bill would reclassify the job and allow Human Services administrators to more heavily weigh previous investigative experience rather than seniority in a state job.
The Tribune series exposed shortcomings in two neglect investigations by that office, leading Human Services Inspector General Michael McCotter to reopen those cases.
Rep. Patricia R. Bellock is also spearheading legislation that empowers Human Services to extend the provisional period of a new group home license to two years from one. The extra period of time would allow Human Services’ Bureau of Accreditation, Licensing and Certification more time to ensure that new group home businesses are providing necessary services to some of the state’s most vulnerable adults.
Human Services Secretary James Dimas earlier this month asked legislators to consider introducing bills that would address these areas of reform to “further promote the safety and well-being” of group home residents. Many other reforms have already been implemented or are under way that do not require changes in law, he said.
One of the most significant accountability reforms involves the creation of a public report card system that weighs the quality and safety of group homes.
Human Services officials said the department plans to roll out a web-based system that evaluates group home businesses based on state investigations, including numbers of allegations and substantiated cases of abuse and neglect. The report cards also would include information from licensing and quality surveys that gauge the condition of homes and how care is delivered.
Officials have been less clear about plans to increase public accountability.
The Tribune found that Illinois’ group home system is one of the most secretive branches of state health care, in part because a state law allows Human Services to seal thousands of investigative files when violations or deficiencies are found but not formally cited.
Group home addresses are considered confidential and are redacted from Human Services public records. State oversight has been concealed so thoroughly at times that outsiders could not determine when or where investigations occurred or what action, if any, was taken.
Overall, the Tribune identified 1,311 cases linked to abuse and neglect in group homes and their day programs since July 2011, and 42 deaths in the last seven years.
The Arc of Illinois
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