Today the Chicago Tribune ran another editorial on disability services. The editorial calls for appropriate funding for community services and more transparency. It mentions the important role of DSP’s and low wages.
The combined Senate & House Human Services Committee will hold a joint hearing on abuse and neglect in community services. The hearing will be in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 13th at 1:00 p.m. Click here for details.
When Politics Trumps People
December 2, 2016
Finally, the state cracked down on a shoddy group home operator serving adults with disabilities. The Illinois Department of Human Services has yanked the license of Disability Services of Illinois following a Tribune investigation into health and safety violations — some resulting in deaths — at group homes statewide.
That’s a start, but only a start, at fixing these problems. The overarching issue is years of sloppy state oversight of those homes.
The revocation was the first salient consequence of the Tribune’s series “Suffering in Secret,” which uncovered 1,311 incidents linked to abuse and neglect at group homes since July 2011. In 42 cases, clients died while in group home care. Untrained and careless workers forgot to dispense life-saving medication, didn’t recognize the dangers of choking, failed to call 911 or perform CPR during emergencies, let bed sores go untreated.
In many of these community homes the caregivers are unlicensed and untrained. They’re paid low wages. They’re overworked. And tragedies happen. Investigations into accidents and deaths, the Tribune found, are sloppy, incomplete and sometimes deceitful. In hundreds of cases, employees were allowed to investigate their own colleagues, a clear conflict of interest. At least one death identified by the Tribune went unreported for six months.
As a result of the Tribune’s work, the state had to retract five years of error-filled reports from group homes. Five years.
How did this happen?
Disability Services of Illinois,headquartered in Chicago Heights, had a long history of complaints at its residential homes but also had relationships in Springfield that allowed it to continue getting state business. Until this week. The state notified the firm Nov. 28 its license would be revoked. Inspections last month found living conditions so deplorable the state determined clients were “at imminent risk.” In an oversight system that gave operators second chances, Disability Services got third, fourth and fifth chances. For that, blame the Department of Human Services.
The problems go beyond one operator. The Tribune’s series exposed Illinois’ incompetence at its most essential role: to keep citizens, especially those who cannot care or fight for themselves, safe from harm. For lack of state transparency, the public didn’t know about all this harm.
Advocates for the disabled say the state needs to raise the hourly rate under which it reimburses caretakers. Group home operators have trouble attracting qualified, trained workers when the pay averages about $9 an hour. Caretakers are responsible for around-the-clock tasks that include bathing, dressing, transporting and feeding adults who have severe disorders.
Tara Wandick wipes sweat from her son, Deron Hardge, 28, during a visit at his group home in October on the West Side. Wandick placed Hardge, who has autism and a profound intellectual disability, in the Chicago facility after he suffered a medical crisis at a group home in Harvey caused by what she believes was neglect. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that was designed to raised the wage, but he had little choice. Lawmakers sent him the legislation without a funding source. Illinois needs a comprehensive financial plan and a balanced budget. But political infighting prevents progress toward financial or policy fixes in Springfield, even at the expense of the state’s most vulnerable.
The group home operator shut down by the state is being sued for negligence. Deron Hardge, now 28, nearly died in a group home in Harvey run by the owner of Disability Services in 2012, according to a lawsuit filed by his mother, Tara Wandick. Hardge, who has autism and intellectual disabilities, was found cold and unresponsive one afternoon. Doctors determined he had suffered a massive seizure. Hardge wasn’t discovered for hours, according to paramedics. He slipped into a coma and suffered severe hypothermia but survived. He now lives in a different group home.
During an interview with Tribune reporters — which you can see in the video above — Wandick sobs as she describes the anguish of deciding to place her son in a group home and the events that unfolded. As she talks, Hardge peers into her face. He cannot ask her what’s wrong. He does not wrap her in a hug. He cannot speak.
Illinois has been steering people into community settings — the intent is to deliver better care at lower cost than big state institutions. Many group homes are well-run, loving environments. But for too many years state monitoring has been lax and secretive. Nurturing and protecting these residents statewide now demands public persistence and pressure to ensure the state follows through on other reforms. More vigilance. More home inspections. More transparency. More accountability.
And — here’s the big one — legislative leaders have to move beyond their political standoff. The Deron Hardges of Illinois should not have to fight for attention and resources. Lawmakers should be working toward passing a balanced budget that includes appropriate funding for social service providers.
Sadly, despicably, that’s difficult in a statehouse where politics, not people, comes first.
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune
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