Gov. Pat Quinn said Saturday he was "disturbed" and "disappointed" after he read in the Belleville News-Democrat that deaths of disabled adults were not investigated by the state agency responsible for protecting them.
The agency is the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Human Services.
The reason for not investigating? According to OIG documents, agency administrators have interpreted state law to mean, "The dead are ineligible for services."
"I was disturbed to read those (stories), and we're visiting with the department, and its folks who work there, to review their work and improve upon it. Work needs to be done," Quinn said after a Chicago news conference about the state budget he signed Saturday. The BND received an audiotape of the comments from Capitol Fax.com.
On Wednesday, the newspaper published seven stories online that were repeated in the Thursday print edition. The primary finding was that since 2003, at least 53 disabled adults who lived at home and were the subjects of at least one recent call to the statewide abuse hotline, were hospitalized on an emergency basis then died, usually within a few days or weeks, with no OIG investigation.
The series of stories also reported that the agency turns away hundreds of calls for help each year including 41 percent, or 534 of 1,289 hotline calls received in fiscal 2011, which ended in June of 2011. Only five of the calls were mentioned in OIG reports as having been turned over to law enforcement, although at least in three of the five cases spokesmen at the agencies said they never received any notification that a disabled person had died under suspicious circumstances. It was unclear whether law enforcement was notified in any of the other 48 cases.
"I was disappointed to read that, and I don't think that's the right way to go, so we're going to take charge on that. And I am saddened to read that and it's important that we do something about it," Quinn said about the overall findings.
Asked by a reporter in Chicago whether top officials might lose their jobs, Quinn said, "We're going to make sure we do whatever is necessary to make certain we improve upon the process."
On Friday, in response to requests from the BND, the Department of Human Services issued this statement, "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."
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, chairman of the Human Services Committee, overseers of the OIG-DHS, said he will decide Monday whether to convene a committee meeting concerning the newspaper's findings.
Previously, he called the failure to act on death cases, "very disturbing" and after his own review of state law said he could not find any reference that disabled people are ineligible for services when they die.