SPRINGFIELD – State Representative Paul Jacobs (R-Pomona) and State Representative Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) have been the lead House Republican members working to identify and correct ongoing problems at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center with the goal of keeping the facility open to serve residents living with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In late February, the representatives joined State Senators Dale Fowler, Terri Bryant, and Jil Tracy for a capitol news conference to demand immediate public hearings into abuses of residents of Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna, Illinois. Choate is located within the boundaries of Rep. Jacobs’ 118th legislative district.
“My colleagues and I in the House and Senate Republican caucuses sounded the alarm on Choate, and we demanded hearings into the abuse and neglect that was laid out in very disturbing media reports. We are still demanding that those hearings take place,” Jacobs said. “There’s no reason they shouldn’t. The House and Senate must act in their role as appropriate legislative oversight bodies to put on the record what happened at Choate and to allow families and loved ones and employees of Choate to testify. I’m not going to stop demanding these hearings take place as soon as possible.”
The abuses that were detailed in a February 10th, 2023 ProPublica report showed an unacceptable pattern of abuse, neglect, cover-up, and intimidation of whistleblowers over a decade-long period that resulted in more than 1,500 complaints to the Office of the Inspector General overseeing the Illinois Department of Human Services.
Since that time, Rep. Jacobs joined Senator Bryant (GOP Ranking Member of the Senate Mental and Behavioral Health Committee) in distributing a letter to all members of the House and Senate that provides an update on the “good things” that are happening at Choate. The letter was accompanied by another letter that was penned by the President of “Friends of Choate”, Rita Burke. Friends of Choate is the parents and family advocacy group that works on behalf of the best interests of the residents of Choate.
“The fear that Friends of Choate had was that despite some very positive improvements that are underway at the facility, the Governor was just going to close it down and send the residents hundreds of miles away anyway,” Jacobs said. “This is these residents’ home. Their families are close by in many instances. The alternative to today’s transformation announcement was permanent closure. I am cautiously optimistic that this transformation plan will meet the very real and urgent needs of the residents of Choate. For now, we will trust, but we will continuously verify,” Jacobs said.
On Wednesday, Governor JB Pritzker held a news conference at Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine to announce that Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center will undergo a three-year transformation that will effectively repurpose Choate while implementing new safety enhancements and expand support for families and the residents living there.
The Department of Human Services announced Wednesday it will partner with SIU’s School of Medicine to shape Choate’s transformation.
“Our goal was to keep Choate open and make it a safer place for the residents being cared for there,” Jacobs said. “The Governor had previously threatened to shutter the facility, and that would have been devastating on many levels for the residents, their families, and the community of Anna. I am encouraged that SIU’s School of Medicine will have a role in keeping Choate open and making it the best mental health facility that it can be. I am greatly concerned for the residents that will be moved from Choate to other facilities. I am greatly concerned for their families as well. It remains to be seen if this transformation plan will accomplish its stated goal. I will continue to hold this administration accountable for the promises that they have made to invest in building and grounds improvements, implement new safety measures, and provide direct support for residents and their families while this transformation takes place.”
Rep. Meier says he is encouraged to see some of his recommendations being implemented at Choate, but cautions against the mass movement of residents into Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs).
“Less than two weeks ago, we rolled out a plan to protect the residents at Choate and improve their home. Today, DHS affirmed they agree with us on making sorely-needed improvements. We are here to fight for our most vulnerable population under state care and to make sure they are safe and healthy. We will continue to provide oversight during this transition and will not turn our back on our developmentally disabled residents that call Choate their home,” Meier said. “Today is a positive step, but the job is not done yet. I want to ensure both Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs) and State Operated Developmental Centers (SODCs) are safe for all residents and want assurances that residents are only relocated to a new CILA or SODC if approved by their parent or legal guardian. We want residents to live as close to their loved ones as possible.”
– Install cameras in common areas
– Implement ongoing staff training
– A mass hiring of qualified staff to help
– Track staff incidents by location and trends
– Increase administrative and security inspections
– Improve overall accountability of staff performance
– Remind employees if they see something is wrong, report it
– Increase the amount of active treatment and activities for residents
– Encourage and welcome parents/guardians visiting their loved ones
– Assign an interim director or assistant director to Choate Developmental Center
– Reevaluate the Office of Inspector General reporting system as it currently operates