This is the first of a three part series.
The second part may come later this afternoon.
SUFFERING IN SECRET:
Illinois hides abuse and neglect of adults with disabilities
By Michael J. Berens and Patricia Callahan
The house had no address; the dead man had no name.
Illinois officials blacked out those details from their investigative report. Nobody else was supposed to learn the man’s identity or the location of the state-funded facility where his body was found.
The investigation was closed as it began, with no public disclosure, and the report was filed away, one of thousands that portray a hidden world of misery and harm.
No one would know that Thomas Powers died at 3300 Essington Road in unincorporated Joliet, in a group home managed for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Or that his caregivers forced a 50-year-old man with the intellect of a small child to sleep on a soiled mattress on the floor in a room used for storage.
Or that the front door bore a building inspection sticker that warned, “Not approved for occupancy.”
Not even Powers’ grieving family knew the state had looked into his death and found evidence of neglect.
As Illinois steers thousands of low-income adults with disabilities into private group homes, a Tribune investigation found Powers was but one of many casualties in a botched strategy to save money and give some of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable residents a better life.
In the first comprehensive accounting of mistreatment inside Illinois’ taxpayer-funded group homes and their day programs, the Tribune uncovered a system where caregivers often failed to provide basic care while regulators cloaked harm and death with secrecy and silence.
The Tribune identified 1,311 cases of documented harm since July 2011 — hundreds more cases than publicly reported by the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Confronted with those findings, Human Services officials retracted five years of erroneous reports and said the department had launched reforms to ensure accurate reporting.
To circumvent state secrecy, the Tribune filed more than 100 public records requests with government agencies. But state files were so heavily redacted and unreliable that the newspaper had to build its own databases by mining state investigative files, court records, law enforcement cases, industry reports, federal audits, grant awards and Medicaid data.
The Tribune found at least 42 deaths linked to abuse or neglect in group homes or their day programs over the last seven years. Residents fatally choked on improperly prepared food, succumbed to untreated bed sores and languished in pain from undiagnosed ailments.
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423