Is state retaliating against Murray Center lawyer?

News-DemocratOctober 5, 2013 

Supporters made "Save Murray Center" signs during the fight to keep the facility open.

ZIA NIZAMI/BND

An attorney serving as a court-appointed guardian for some of the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center's residents should be relieved of his duties, the state is arguing in an appeal.

A local legislator calls the appeal retaliation for the attorney's scathing report on unsafe conditions and understaffing at the private homes where some Murray Center residents have been moved.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, however, said it's not retaliation.

A Clinton County judge appointed the attorney, Stewart Freeman, earlier this year to serve as a guardian for 24 Murray Center residents who do not have relatives or anyone else serving as their private guardians.

The Department of Human Services, which is closing Murray Center in Centralia as part of an effort to improve the care of adults with developmental disabilities, has filed a notice that it will appeal Freeman's appointment as a guardian to the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon.

If Freeman had not been appointed the guardian, the 24 residents would instead be represented by the Illinois Office of the State Guardian.

Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for DHS, said the agency is appealing the removal of the state guardian in these cases.

"The Clinton County court entered a preliminary injunction that limits the state guardian's ability to act in the best interests of their wards. The state is appealing that injunction, not the appointment of Mr. Freeman," Smith said.

Freeman did not return calls seeking comment.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, an Okawville Republican who is trying to keep the Murray Center open, said he finds the timing of the appeal to be "very convenient."

The state filed its notice of appeal last week -- four days after Freeman wrote an affidavit outlining what he said were unsafe conditions at the private group homes.

On Sept. 24, Freeman wrote a sworn affidavit, in which he described his findings from surprise visits at some of the small group homes where some Murray Center residents are already residing, at least on a trial basis. The homes are called Community Integrated Living Arrangements, or CILAs.

Freeman, in the affidavit, said one of his clients suffered a seizure and had to be hospitalized after the home ran out of seizure medicine, and another was fed a store-bought nutrition drink for days because the home ran out of the doctor-prescribed nutrition that the resident is supposed to receive through a feeding tube.

Meier said, "I have to wonder if this appeal is retribution for speaking out about the conditions at the CILAs Mr. Freeman visited."

Freeman also reported that a former employee of one of the CILAs told him she once worked 38 days straight and was "literally delirious" toward the end, and had an emotional breakdown. She had pay stubs showing she had worked 140, 150 and even more than 180 hours during two-week periods.

The ex-employee also told Freeman that the home ran out of the doctor-prescribed nutrition that was supposed to be given to one of Freeman's clients via a feeding tube. So the employee went to a store and bought some Ensure, which was fed to the client for a few days.

Another former employee of one of the CILAs had been charged in criminal court -- prior to working at the home -- with physically abusing a disabled person, according to Freeman.

Smith, the DHS spokeswoman, has said the agency takes allegations such as Freeman's seriously, and has asked an independent, third party, Equip for Equality, to visit the homes and issue a report.

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