Equip for Equality Urges Governor to Close State Facility for Ongoing Abuse and Neglect of Residents
Lincoln Developmental Center Cited as "Miserable Failure"
CHICAGO (Nov. 6, 2001) -- Today Equip for Equality (EFE), in its capacity as the Governor designated and federally mandated Protection and Advocacy System for people with mental and physical disabilities in Illinois, went on record in support of permanently closing Lincoln Developmental Center in Lincoln, Ill. As grounds for its recommendation, the advocacy and investigative organization cites the continuation of a more than a decade of abuse and profound neglect of Lincoln residents, resulting in pain and suffering, loss of individual rights, endangered health, numerous hospitalizations and documented deaths.
Based on observations at unannounced visits to Lincoln on October 15, 16 and 31 by representatives from its Chicago and Springfield offices, and review of records, EFE concluded that the serious safety and other conditions leading to the call for decertification of Lincoln by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) still exist and that residents remain at substantial risk of serious harm.
Serious concerns about the ongoing safety of residents led EFE on Oct. 19 to strongly recommend to IDPH that it serve as an independent monitor at Lincoln while the staff attempts to address the violations during this period of uncertainty when the long-term status of Lincoln remains undetermined. In response, IDPH has returned to Lincoln several times a week.
"The operation of Lincoln has been and remains a miserable failure," says Zena Naiditch, President and CEO of Equip for Equality. "We are recommending that the state shift its focus from saving Lincoln to facilitating a well-planned and orderly transition of residents to community integrated living arrangements (CILAs) or to other facilities based on individual preferences and needs. What is clear, however, is that Band-Aid improvements are not going to remedy the deep-seated problems that have plagued Lincoln for so many years."
Lincoln's longstanding abusive practices and negligence provide a chronology of horror stories documented in more than a decade of state records up to the present. Several of the most recent incidents investigated serve to illustrate the depth of Lincoln's ills:
- November 1998. Death of a resident who asphyxiated and suffocated on his own vomit after being restrained facedown for more than 35 minutes by five staff members.
- December 2000. A resident who had a prolonged seizure died as the result of improper medication and inadequate health care services.
- January 2001. A resident is found submerged under water in the bathtub after being left unattended and is revived.
- March 2001. A resident with PICA behaviors (ingestion of non-edible objects) swallowed pills taken from an employee's purse. His stomach was pumped and he was stabilized.
- March 2001. - A Lincoln nurse (LPN) choked a resident who was immobilized while in full mechanical restraints with a bed sheet. The resident lost consciousness and was revived. Staff failed to report the incident until three weeks later. To compound matters, the employee had been hired despite a termination agreement from a previous state institution stating that he was "never again" to work for a state-operated facility. Criminal charges are pending.
- April 2001. A resident with PICA behaviors is hospitalized for ingestion of a pen cap from a felt tip marker requiring a surgical procedure to remove the cap.
- June 2001. A resident with PICA behaviors is taken to the hospital where he later underwent surgery for the removal of several latex gloves and cloth material.
- July 2001. The same resident who ingested the pen cap in April is hospitalized again, this time for ingestion of plastic dominos. The resident underwent three surgical procedures to remove the game pieces. The resident experienced severe complications and was hospitalized for an extended period.
- July 2001. The same resident who had swallowed a staff member's pills in March died from a drug overdose after accessing a staff member's personal medication. Staff responsible covered up the incident.
Since July and on a continuing basis, other serious incidents of alleged abuse have been reported and are under investigation by the state.
"Despite all the attention and resources that have been focused on Lincoln in the past few years, the facility on its best day warehouses people with developmental disabilities, offering little in the way of programming and active treatment essential for their well-being," says Naiditch. At other times, Lincoln is a dangerous place to live and residents are at risk of serious injury or death."
During EFE's observations at Lincoln, staff witnessed a number of incidents when Lincoln failed to respond to PICA behaviors in a timely and consistent manner. One resident attempted to eat a cigarette butt that he found in an unsecured garbage container. Others were seen repeatedly swiping the floor, picking at the bottom of their shoes and then putting their hands in their mouths. Some residents bit their hands repeatedly or chewed items they found on the floor. A variety of non-edible and dangerous items, including supplies in an open laundry room, were visible and available to residents exhibiting PICA behaviors.
Activities or programs designed to meet residents' needs were noticeably absent in the units. Television - most often tuned in to the terrorist crisis - was the major activity provided, although residents were clearly disinterested. Residents were idle, restless, sleeping in their chairs or engaging in self-injurious and other maladaptive behaviors such as disrobing or aggressively striking walls.
At the direction of Gov. George Ryan, the Illinois Department of Human Services, which operates Lincoln, is attempting to keep the facility open by instituting reform measures. A 120-day clock is ticking on decertification, which would spell the end of Medicaid funding representing one-half of Lincoln's $35 million annual budgets if it does not meet federal standards.
"Gov. Ryan, the legislature and the public need to focus on the tragedy and despair inside Lincoln," says Naiditch. "We recognize that closing Lincoln and moving residents will be very difficult for them and for their families. But the safety and well being of the residents must come first. We should not be supporting a facility where people are neglected and continue to be at risk of serious harm."
Lincoln is a 370-bed facility that first opened its doors in 1877. It is one of 11 state-operated institutions for 2,300 people with developmental disabilities. Illinois houses more people in state institutions for people with developmental disabilities than most other states - ranking 43rd nationally. EFE believes that Illinois maintains too many institutions and that this practice has precluded the state from developing sufficient community-based programs. Illinois' ranking in spending for community programs is also near the bottom nationally, ranking 42nd. EFE's call for closure of Lincoln is consistent with the position taken earlier by the Consortium of Illinois Disability Advocates.
For further information, contact Zena Naiditch at 312-341-0022, 800-537-2632 or TTY 800-610-2779.