November 17, 2009
While politicians, unions and other supporters of Howe Developmental Center fight to keep it open, a new report from the U.S. Justice Department has raised more questions about Howe’s viability.
The report is the result of a federal investigation that began in 2007 under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. The Justice Department found that Howe failed to protect its residents from attacks and neglect and that it did not provide adequate medical care. Many of the problems “are due to or exacerbated by Howe’s failure to focus its treatment and care on moving individuals into the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs,” the Justice Department said in its November 9, 2009 report to Governor Pat Quinn.
The finding about deficiencies in moving Howe residents into community settings appears to be relevant to the current situation at the facility. As previously discussed in this blog, Governor Quinn decided in August of 2009 to shut down Howe and move its approximately 240 residents to other locations by April of 2010. The Governor’s decision came after recommendations to close Howe by the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability and by a consultant hired by the Governor to assess conditions at the Center.
Howe, a state-operated facility for the developmentally disabled in Tinley Park, lost its Medicaid certification in 2007, after investigators found serious deficiencies at the facility. The State of Illinois has been losing roughly $30 million a year due to the lack of federal Medicaid funding.
Supporters of the facility, including families of residents, unions and politicians, have joined forces to prevent the planned closure. The supporters, including U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., State Sen. Maggie Crotty and 11 state representatives, have reportedly collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition urging Governor Quinn to reverse his decision. Howe backers accuse state officials of hiding information about problems facing families in moving their loved ones out of Howe by the April deadline.
The Illinois House Disability Services Committee held a public hearing on November 16 in Tinley Park to address allegations that some of Howe’s residents have died or been jailed during the transition to new locations. According to news reports, the hearing turned into another debate over whether the facility should remain open. Some families said they are concerned that their relatives would not be cared for as well elsewhere. State Rep. Esther Golar, who chairs the Committee, said the closing of Howe might have to be slowed down.
The Justice Department report was only mentioned briefly at the hearing. Federal officials notified the State of the investigation in July of 2007 and toured the facility in December of 2007. The Justice Department also reviewed a wide variety of documents, including policy manuals and residents’ medical records. It is not clear why the investigation took two years to complete.
The report found that incidents of aggression and assault were rampant at Howe. Between September 2006 and September 2007, more than 150 residents were assaulted by their peers, with human bites accounting for 25% of attacks. Of the ten most frequently injured residents, seven had been assigned intensive staffing, which was apparently ineffective in ensuring their safety, the report said. Abuse and neglect by staff were also pervasive, according to the Justice Department. In one case of a resident’s sudden death, two staff members did not provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation after finding him unresponsive in his bed because they did not think of doing so.
Many of the problems were attributed in part to the facility’s failure to focus on moving residents to the most appropriate community settings, as required by federal law. “Among the staff at Howe, we observed a culture that accepts movement toward community placements at a glacial pace. Often there is no movement at all. Transition to community placement, when considered, is viewed as a distant possibility,” the report said.
The Justice Department said that it was aware of the plan to close Howe and that it hoped to work with state officials to resolve its concerns. However, if no resolution is agreed upon, the Illinois Attorney General is authorized to file a lawsuit to correct deficiencies.