Problems with the way the state handles neglect and abuse complaints to its hotline concerning disabled adults who live at home might best be handled by rewriting the current law, state legislators said Thursday.
A Belleville News-Democrat investigation this week revealed that the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services did not investigate 53 death cases since 2003 of disabled adults who were the subject of allegations of abuse or neglect called into the agency's hotline, were hospitalized and died soon after.
The OIG refused to investigate after learning of the disabled adults' deaths, citing an interpretation of a law passed in 2000. The agency says it is not responsible for investigating the circumstances surrounding those deaths because "the dead are ineligible for services," according to OIG documents.
The newspaper also found that the agency deemed a record number of calls to its abuse hotline as "non-reportable" calls, meaning they were not accepted by hotline operators for investigation. A total of 534 calls, or 41 percent, were listed as non-reportable in 2011.
An OIC spokeswoman said the agency will issue a statement today about the the findings.
The agency also reported the second-lowest rate of substantiating abuse and neglect allegations, finding a reason to believe abuse and neglect occurred in 124 cases of the 755 referred for investigation. Of those, 22 adults with disabilities statewide were removed on an emergency basis from an abusive or neglectful caregiver.
"It is very disturbing to say the least," said Sen. William Haine, D-Alton. "I think the OIG owes each and every member of the General Assembly a full explanation of these facts. ... I think this calls for some supplemental legislation that should involve other stakeholders like state's attorneys and coroners."
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, refuted the OIG's interpretation of the 2000 law that gave it increased powers to investigate abuse and neglect of disabled adults who live outside of state facilities.
"It doesn't seem to be that there's any lacking of specificity in the law," Harris said. "I don't see this nonsense about, well, "We can't provide services once they're deceased."
The OIG should be looking into cases of neglect and abuse of a disabled person, especially when a death follows an allegation, Harris said. The agency has a responsibility to investigate, Harris said, and to turn over cases where neglect or abuse is suspected of being involved to law enforcement.
"We need to find out how this is being allowed to happen," Harris said. "We need to find out if it's a failure of individuals, we need to figure out if it's a failure of the system. Or, if it's a failure of how a law or rule is drafted, whichever one of those it is or all three of them, we have to fix it."
State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said the OIG's main purpose is to investigate abuse and neglect of the disabled.
"That someone dies is a lame reason not to follow through. They have always been tasked with this," Kay said. "If we don't have the ability to pursue causes of death in these cases to their logical end, then we should take it out (of the law). But it seems it was put there for good reason."