Story from today’s Chicago Tribune on the Senate & House Joint Committee on abuse and neglect in the community below.
linois group homes for adults with disabilities will face tougher licensing standards and enforcement and they will be graded for the first time on quality and safety, a top official for the Illinois Department of Human Services vowed to state legislators Tuesday.
Secretary James Dimas told Senate and House lawmakers that his department has launched more than a dozen reform measures to heighten enforcement of 3,000 group homes statewide and increase public transparency involving the care of 12,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
He spoke at a bipartisan Senate and House hearing convened in response to a Chicago Tribune investigation, “Suffering in Secret,” which exposed 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.
One of the most sweeping reforms outlined by Dimas would provide limited public access to previously sealed investigative files. The department is working with the Illinois attorney general’s office to provide group home addresses and full enforcement histories to families and guardians.
“I’m committed to transparency,” said Dimas, who was appointed in May 2015 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The Tribune reported that Human Services’ enforcement arm, the Office of Inspector General, had sealed thousands of investigative files, redacted group home addresses from public records and concealed the oversight process so thoroughly that outsiders could not determine when or where investigations occurred or what action, if any, was taken.
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.
Dimas and other Human Services officials said the department hopes to quickly roll out a web-based public report card 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 incorporate results of licensing and quality surveys that gauge how care is delivered.
Although Dimas acknowledged serious problems in the group home industry and described conditions exposed by the Tribune as “horrific,” he said state records show the majority of businesses are “doing the right work the right way.”
But in one of the hearing’s most searing moments, Rep. Mary E. Flowers (D-Chicago) lashed out at Human Services officials for allowing the state-funded group home industry to deteriorate so badly despite legislative efforts over the decades to protect citizens.
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