Two employees have been put on leave and an Illinois State Police investigation is being conducted following the death of a resident at the Warrren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.
The man’s death happened Monday at the state-operated center for adults who have developmental disabilities.
Jessica Michael, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said the death appears to be due to natural causes.
“As part of our policy, we conducted a mortality review,” Michael said. “During the course of that review, we became concerned about discrepancies in the statements from the employees.”
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She added, “We’ve not formed a conclusion that any wrongdoing occurred. We’re still in the investigative stage.”
ISP, in a news release, said the agency’s Division of Internal Investigation launched its probe on Friday.
“During the course of a mortality review, staff became concerned about discrepancies among the statements of those responsible for the care of the resident,” State Police said.
Michael said she didn’t have additional details to provide about how the resident died, but parents of some Murray Center residents say the man apparently suffered a heart attack. Michael said the guardian of the resident was given an opportunity to request an autopsy, but the guardian declined.
ISP and the Department of Human Services did not immediately release the names of the deceased or the employees. Michael said employees who are placed on administrative leave receive their pay. If criminal charges are filed, an employee is suspended without pay.
ISP said the man was pronounced dead at 9:49 p.m. Monday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Centralia.
Gregory Bassi, the acting secretary for IDHS, issued a brief statement late Thursday night: “We were saddened to learn that a resident of Murray Developmental Center passed away on March 30. During the course of our initial review, we grew concerned by inconsistent statements given by staff members, and we referred the matter to the IDHS Office of the Inspector General to carry out a full investigation. Based upon OIG’s initial review, the matter has been referred to the Illinois State Police.”
Bassi’s statement continued: “Pending the outcome of their investigation, we have placed two staff members on administrative leave.”
Murray Center came close to being shut down under the tenure of former Gov. Pat Quinn, who sought to close the facility as a way to save the state money and shift residents of state-operated institutions into community-based settings — in most cases, privately-operated group homes. The potential closure became an issue during the 2014 election campaign, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner vowed to keep open the center.
State Rep. Charlie Meier, an Okawville Republican who has pushed to keep Murray Center open, said he was notified of the investigation Friday morning, in a phone call from Jennifer Hammer. Hammer is Rauner’s chief adviser on healthcare and human services.
“I find this very encouraging, that we now have an administration that wants to make sure our people with disabilities are being cared for,” Meier said.
Meier said he wouldn’t be surprised if proponents of closing Murray Center are “trying to make this into a thing.”
Meier said he welcomes the investigation, and believes the employees eventually will be cleared of any wrongdoing. “I believe it will be found that nothing wrong happened here,” he said.
Meier said he didn’t have any details of why the police investigation was sought, other than that there were “little inconsistencies” in the statements of the employees.
Murray Center employees and many parents of the center’s residents have fought to keep open the center, even seeking a restraining order from a federal judge. The judge gave the state approval to proceed with closing the center, but funding for the continued operation of the center is included in the state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Quinn’s staff argued that community-based homes, rather than institutions, provide a better quality of life for people with developmental disabilities. Murray Center supporters argued that some of the center’s residents have profound disabilities and need institutional settings.
Rita Winkeler of Bartelso, president of the Murray Parents Association, said guardians of residents want the state oversight, and want investigations conducted when residents are harmed.
“We know this does not always happen in community homes,” Winkeler said. “Quality providers will report incidents, and work to improve care. But we all know there are many community providers who police themselves, and incidents are not reported, much less investigated. I for one am pleased that the Rauner administration cares enough about the disabled to want to ensure their safety.”
Under Quinn, the state also argued that placement in a group home instead of an institution saves the state about $100,000 per person annually, allowing Illinois to spread its limited resources among a growing number of developmentally disabled who need services.
As of early 2014, Murray Center had about 225 residents, some of whom have lived there for decades, and about 530 employees, many of them union members.