A bill that would dramatically change the way the state protects disabled adults who live at home has been introduced in the Illinois Legislature.
House Bill 948, introduced by State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, was drafted after weeks of consultations between Gov. Pat Quinn's office, advocates for the disabled and other legislators, including State Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton.
The bill went through a first reading Friday and was referred to the House Rules Committee. If approved by the full legislature and signed by the governor, it would take effect July 1.
The legislation, known as the Adult Protective Services Act, resulted from a Belleville News-Democrat investigative series that began June 28 titled, "Hidden suffering, hidden death." The articles reported that since 2003, at least 53 disabled adults between the age of 18 and 59 died after they came to the attention of a state hotline operated by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Human Services.
Despite deaths that occurred after neglect and abuse, these cases were closed without investigation by the OIG because, under agency rules, the dead are "ineligible for services."
The News-Democrat also reported that hundreds of calls each year to the hotline were ignored or referred to other agencies without follow-up to see whether the problem were resolved.
In July, Quinn issued an executive order that called for the OIG to be revamped and proposed that its duties concerning homebound disabled adults be turned over to the Illinois Department on Aging, which employs hundreds of community-based workers, including many with medical training, who currently investigate neglect and abuse of people 60 and older.
The OIG will retain the responsibility to protect disabled adults living in state-regulated facilities. Currently, the OIG has five statewide investigators assigned to protect disabled adults living at home.
"We hope that this works to assure that those who so desperately need help get it," Harris said.
The new law requires the Department on Aging to operate a 24-hour hotline that will accept calls not only about persons 60 and older, but disabled adults aged 18 to 59 who live at home. It also contains strict provisions that police and local coroners' and medical examiners' offices must be told of abuse and neglect received through the hotline when a crime is suspected.
It also would establish a "Statewide Fatality Review Team," similar to local teams used by the Department of Children and Family Services to study the deaths of children.
Another challenge faced by legislators revamping OIG involves the development of a system to inform local circuit court judges of state investigations of the disabled when guardianship issues are being decided.
Third Judicial District Chief Judge Ann Callis in Madison County formed a task force in her jurisdiction headed by Associate Judge Steven Stobbs to develop ways to ensure that judges in guardianship cases are informed of all factors that could affect their decision.
"We are exploring all issues," Callis said.
The task force was prompted by the case of 33-year-old Leann Singleton of East Alton, who is blind and deaf, severely developmentally disabled, cannot communicate nor walk unassisted because of cerebral palsy.
The newspaper series reported that for years Leann lived in a home where transients rented places in the basement, registered sex offenders were allowed to hang out, and the disabled woman was left to spend much of each day sitting in a chair in the living room. Without this knowledge, Stobbs granted guardianship to Leann's former stepmother, Rose Goode, 50.
After a hearing, Stobbs on Jan. 19 ordered Leann removed from her home and taken to a state-regulated home for the disabled.
Haine said he will introduce a version of the new bill in the Senate. He said, however, he didn't know whether a proposal to ensure that judges in guardianship cases get state reports of abuse and neglect of the disabled can be handled by the new law.
"We want to make sure we are all on the same page of the hymnal," Haine said. "And we have to be careful of privacy. But we can work this out. I don't know if it will become part of this upcoming bill or not."