House and Senate Republican legislators held a Capitol news conference Thursday to call for immediate joint House and Senate hearings to investigate disturbing reports of abuse and neglect of the residents of Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center.
State Representatives Paul Jacobs, Charlie Meier, Norine Hammond, and Dave Severin, along with State Senators Terri Bryant, Dale Fowler, and Jil Tracy called for public hearings to discuss the serious concerns regarding disturbing reports of neglect and abuse of the residents at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center located in southern Illinois. In addition to their request for public hearings, the legislators discussed their plan called ‘Help Protect Us and Improve Our Home’ which offered eleven changes needed to make improvements at Choate.
The press conference was held after all members of the Illinois House and Senate Republican caucuses signed on to a letter that was sent to the Chairpersons of the Committees charged with oversight of the Illinois Department of Human Services requesting the hearings and following news reports that have quoted Governor Pritzker threatening to close down the facility if changes and improvements aren’t made.
In a report published by ProPublica on February 10, 2023, lawmakers learned that multiple investigations by the Inspector General designated to oversee the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) revealed serious and unacceptable incidents of neglect and abuse and a culture of intimidation and retaliation against whistleblowers. Choate has been the subject of more than 1,500 complaints to DHS over the last decade.
The Republicans unveiled an 11-point proposal they say could begin to fix issues at Choate right away. The plan includes:
- Install cameras in common areas
- Implement ongoing staff training
- A mass hiring of qualified staff to help
- Track staff incidents by location and trends
- Increase administrative and security inspections
- Improve overall accountability of staff performance
- Remind employees if they see something is wrong, report it
- Increase the amount of active treatment and activities for residents
- Encourage and welcome parents/guardians visiting their loved ones
- Assign an interim director or assistant director to Choate Developmental Center
- Reevaluate the Office of Inspector General reporting system as it currently operates
Regarding this plan, Rep. Schmidt said, “I support my fellow colleagues in their plan to bring reform to Choate. These repeat abuses trouble me and I want to do anything I can to bring positive change to the situation. I will continue to voice support for this proposal as I believe this is a topic that needs immediate attention.”