In the wake of the recent scandal regarding uninvestigated neglect and abuse claims of Illinoisans with disabilities living at home, some are already calling for changes to state law. Yesterday our Chicago elder abuse lawyers shared information on investigative reports which found that dozens and dozens of residents with disabilities died due to neglect and abuse without the state conducting any investigation or holding wrongdoers accountable.
As explained in the Belleville News Democrat, the problem was a unique interpretation of state law by the agency designated to investigate claims–the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services. The investigations into the suspicious deaths stopped because the work was deemed a “service” and deceased individuals do not receive services. This determination was reached by the agency’s interpretation of a law passed in 2000 giving the agency widespread powers to root out abuse and mistreatment of Illinoisans with disabilities in non-institutionalized settings. Our Chicago elder abuse attorneys know that while investigations underway usually continue when involving a resident of a state-run facility; the rules are apparently different when the individual takes advantage of resources to stay at home or receive care in an alternative setting.
An investigation into the work by the agency found that of the 534 calls received last year to the abuse hotline, a shocking 41% were deemed “non-reportable.” They were then, essentially, ignored. In addition, the rate of abuse findings have decreased over the last few years, meaning fewer and fewer residents are removed to other settings after abuse complaints are made.
Our elder neglect lawyers appreciate that these trends are quite concerning. Laws need to be changed to ensure those who commit wrongdoing are held fully accountable and not given a free pass because of bizarre interpretations by a state agency.
Lawmakers already appear poised to act. The House Human Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Greg Harris explained that “There doesn’t seem to be that there’s any lack of specificity in the law. I don’t see this nonsense about, ‘Well, we can’t provide services once they’re deceased.'” He went on to note that it was common sense for a the agency to investigate these abuse claims following a death.
Other lawmakers argued that it makes no sense for the law to ever have meant to end an investigation following a death. Either the agency is charged with investigating these abuse claims or they are not. But threading a needle and investigating certain claims and not others because an individual died (as a result of the neglect itself!) is entirely illogical.
It remains to be seen if the OIG will reinterpret the law or if supplemental legislation is needed to make extra clear that investigations are to continue in these cases.
In any event, the elder law attorneys at our firm understand that this sad situation is a reminder of the need for local residents be vigilant on their own to root out abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, state agencies often fail to fully investigate following accusations of mistreatment and abuse.
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