SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Patrick Quinn signed a bill into law Monday intended to greatly expand protection for adults with disabilities who live at home. The law was inspired by an investigative series in the Belleville News-Democrat.
The Adult Protective Services Act transfers the responsibility to investigate the injury and death of disabled adults from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Human Services to the Department On Aging, which has many more investigators already in place throughout the state. It also assigns responsibility to the department to protect disabled adults living at home. Except for a few provisions, the new law takes effect immediately.
Quinn praised the sponsors of the bill, state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, and state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton. He also praised the BND investigative series "Hidden suffering, hidden death," which reported that the deaths of 53 severely disabled adults who chose to live at home were not investigated because of an agency rule stating the dead are "ineligible for services."
"Our most vulnerable people deserve the strongest protections," the governor said in a press release. "Based on the nation's best practices, this legislation will create the state's first-ever Adult Protective Services Unit to protect our most-vulnerable residents from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
"This new law will ensure that every allegation is thoroughly investigated and make Illinois a national leader when it comes to protecting those who need it most," Quinn said.
The BND series, which ran in June 2012 with numerous follow-ups, also reported extensively on cases where investigations of disabled adults were carried out but that the victims were left in place in the same homes with their abusers, and on hundreds of calls to a state hotline that were essentially ignored.
The BND series led to the resignation of former OIG Inspector General William Davis and the implementation of an executive order by Quinn that resulted in an official investigation by a former Chicago assistant chief of detectives, which corroborated the newspaper's findings. The executive order also strengthened existing protections that were not being properly utilized.
"This legislation will help local law enforcement, community organizations and disability advocates across the state of Illinois to protect our most frail and vulnerable persons with disabilities," Harris said.
"We have a moral obligation and an ethical duty to protect those who cannot protect themselves," Haine added. "This gives an often marginalized, at risk population new protections from abuse and exploitation."
According to the bill, the new law:
* Places full responsibility for investigating all suspected cases of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation as well as cases where a disabled person living at home is suspected to have died because of mistreatment or neglect.
* Creates a "Statewide Fatality Review Team," which will investigate suspicious deaths of disabled people.
* People whose job requires them to deal with older adults including the disabled must undergo increased screening through the Department of Public Health's Health Care Worker Registry.
John K. Holton, the director of the Department on Aging, said, "We applaud Gov. Quinn's leadership on this issue and we embrace the added responsibilities for protecting our most vulnerable friends and neighbors."