SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Human Services is "reviewing and re-evaluating the role" of its Office of the Inspector General following a Belleville News-Democrat report that the agency failed to investigate after 53 disabled adults died amid allegations of neglect and abuse.
"These are serious issues of concern. The department is currently reviewing and re-evaluating the OIG's role, authority and practices under the program, both under current law and in coordination with law enforcement and other investigatory agencies," Januari Smith Trader, a Department of Human Services spokeswoman, said in a statement released Friday.
The newspaper reported that, since May 2003, at least 53 adults were the subjects of statewide hotline allegations of severe neglect and abuse, were hospitalized on an emergency basis, and died, usually within a few days or weeks. But none of those deaths were investigated by the OIG, which is charged under a 2000 Illinois law with preventing the abuse of disabled adults ages 18-59 who live outside state facilities.
The reason stated for not investigating, according to OIG documents, is that once people die, they are "ineligible for services."
State Rep. Greg Harris, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said he found the reports "very disturbing" and was waiting to hear back from Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle R.B. Saddler before deciding whether to call for a hearing before his committee.
The newspaper found that in five of the 53 death cases, the OIG notified local police, but none of these cases resulted in a felony criminal conviction. It isn't clear whether police were notified in the remaining 48 cases.
The newspaper also found that the agency deemed 534 allegations as "non-reportable," meaning they were not accepted for investigation in fiscal year 2011. Of those calls, seven were referred to local law enforcement. In 755 cases that were referred for investigation, it isn't clear how many cases were referred to local police.
The department's directive for the OIG regarding referrals to local law enforcement changed June 15 -- just days after News-Democrat reporters inquired about which OIG cases were referred to police.
Under the new directive, cases now must be referred to police when there is a serious injury or death associated with an allegation of abuse or neglect, or whenever abuse or neglect complaints "rise to the level of criminal conduct."
The agency also changed its policy related to its role in law enforcement investigations.
When cases are to be referred to law enforcement, the OIG investigator will call their supervisor and discuss the case, notify the police agency and note the referral in the case report, according to the OIG directive. Investigators also must inform the inspector general of developments related to the criminal case.
Former state Rep. Lee Daniels, R-Elmhurst, who helped guide the passage of the state law that greatly expanded the OIG protection role to include disabled people who live at home, said Friday that the newspaper series "uncovered massive violations of state law."
Smith Trader declined to say whether the OIG's review of its operations would include an inquiry into whether state law was broken. "I think our previous response addresses it," she said.