Chronic Investigation Lapses Following Suspicious Deaths of Illinoisans with Disabilities

The Belleville News reported last week on a story that was sending shockwaves across the state among those concerned about the care of seniors and those with disabilities. Each Illinois nursing home neglect attorney at our firm understand the serious problems at many institutions charged with providing care to vulnerable community members. Unfortunately, following suspicious deaths there is often little to no investigation done to get to the bottom of the incident. As a result many of these individuals are killed because of nursing home neglect without anyone ever being held accountable.

The problem may be even worse than many suspected.

A state agency was created to prevent neglect and abuse of seniors who live at home. Yet, bizarre practices at the agency mean that literally hundreds of calls to its abuse hotline go uninvestigated if the individual with a disability dies as a result of the neglect. The Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services was charged in legislation passed in 2000 with protecting these individuals who lived outside of the traditional institutional or nursing home setting.

Our Chicago elder abuse lawyers know that when vulnerable community members are mistreated, the consequences can be severe. Many die as a result of the mistreatment. Amazingly, however, if the subject of a abuse complaint dies after the complaint, the office of the inspector general closes the investigation and does nothing more to determine if there needs to be accountability.

The OIG’s office operates in this way because of their interpretation of a state law. The agency interprets their investigations as a “service,” and the deceased are “ineligible for services.”

The interpretation defies common sense, because it means the worst cases of abuse and neglect are ignored. According to the article, at least 53 individuals died after reports of severe abuse, which as a result of the death, resulted in the end of the investigation. Some of those cases involved individuals who were starved, forced to sit in pain without medical aid or left in their own urine and feces. Some of the disabled adults were not able to move when emergency crews arrived at the scene.

For their part the OIG claims that they are not allowed by law to investigate all claims of individuals at their own home. The group has 53 employees and an annual $5 million budget.

Lawmakers who passed the original bill claim they were shocked when made aware of the way the law was being interpreted. For example, a former state representative who was the lead sponsor of the bill said that “Not investigating because of death is beyond the realm of comprehension…It’s just scary. It’s like saying police wouldn’t investigate a suicide because the person is dead.”

Those looking into the matter have noted that the OIG office may have overlooked the part of the Act which said that it “shall be construed and applied to promote its underlying purposes, which are to prevent, reduce, and eliminate abuse, neglect, and exploitation of adults with disabilities.”

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