FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Deborah M. Kennedy, Abuse Investigation Unit Director
Equip for Equality (312) 341-0022, x7304
TTY (800) 610-2779
Public Information Director
Inhumane and Dangerous Conditions Plagued Social Service Agency for People with Developmental Disabilities
Equip for Equality Calls for Closure of These Are God's People Too
Chicago, Ill. (Aug. 28, 2003) - Following seven unannounced visits over a seven-month period to These Are God's People Too, the Abuse Investigation Unit of Equip for Equality (EFE) recommends that the state stop doing business with the agency, close the facilities it operates and reexamine the entire system by which community service providers are reviewed and sanctioned.
The on-site investigations documented the agency's continuing manifestation of substandard, unsafe and negligent conditions, dangerous restraint techniques, absence of programming and misuse of public funds that impacted the safety and health of approximately 35 individuals with developmental disabilities receiving services,
"The problems we documented illustrate the ineffectiveness of the current enforcement system to address problematic facilities by either compelling prompt improvements or closing their doors," says Deborah M. Kennedy, EFE's Abuse Investigation Unit Director. "Despite significant efforts by the Department of Human Services (DHS) over more than a year, including the issuance of multiple citations for serious deficiencies resulting in the loss of state funding for a brief period, These Are God's People Too did not even begin to address the deplorable conditions until they were confronted with the risk of losing their license. In July 2003, the state found that the agency finally meets minimum standards. This is too little too late!"
Under state contract since 1999, These Are God's People Too, is licensed to operate residential Community Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs) at six sites and developmental training services on one site.
The deplorable conditions that gave rise to EFE's recommendation for closure include walls smeared with feces, bathrooms with no toilet paper or towels, foul smelling rooms, lights with no light bulbs, filthy and broken furniture, ovens too dirty to open, basements with open sewers, mold and standing water - and inadequate food for proper nutrition.
These Are God's People Too first came to the attention of EFE following a report about a full-time resident of the agency who sustained an injury from self-injurious biting behavior that resulted in gangrene and amputation of the hand. In response, the executive director recommended that his teeth be extracted, a procedure declined by the dentist. State records reviewed by EFE also revealed an incident involving a resident who died after staff failed to administer CPR when he became unresponsive while his wheelchair was pushed to a van.
Because of the egregious nature of these occurrences and others, EFE's Investigation Unit expanded its review, which led to the subsequent seven unannounced site visits to the agency's day program and six CILA sites in 2002 and 2003, with a first call for closure in February 2003. A detailed report of the investigations has been published and will be available online at www.equipforequality.org.
The Investigation Unit also reviewed the agency's financial records dating from 1999 through 2001 uncovering evident misappropriation of public funds, including $200,000 to provide key staff with leased cars and cell phones. However, These Are God's People Too did not begin to provide toilet paper and adequate lighting for those under its care until DHS -- in response to EFE's investigation - conducted a comprehensive financial audit, full licensure survey and review of each of its facilities.
"The current system that permits the perpetuation of the flagrant disregard for the basic human rights, and health and safety of people with disabilities is an outrage," says Zena Naiditch, EFE'S President and CEO. "Historically, DHS has been hamstrung in its efforts because it is bound by outside influences and pressures totally unrelated to the care and treatment of those individuals under its care, thus compromising its ability to base decisions solely on the merits of a case. Consequently, the care and treatment of people with disabilities take a back seat."
As a result of the findings and serious concerns revealed in the investigation of These Are God's People Too, EFE proposes that the state, preferably through an independent review, evaluate the effectiveness of DHS's enforcement system, as well as the financial resources required for such a system. EFE further proposes that recommendations include the steps necessary for reform so that DHS can discharge its responsibilities independently and successfully, and that these recommendations for systemic improvement be submitted to the Governor and the General Assembly.
Equip for Equality is the independent, private, not-for-profit organization designated by the Governor in 1985 to administer the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System for safeguarding the rights of children and adults with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. It is the only comprehensive cross-disability statewide advocacy organization providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigation.
For more information, contact Deborah Kennedy at 312-341-0022, ext. 7304.