On June 26, 2017, an Illinois Department on Aging agent and an Alorton village inspector found 16 people with disabilities locked inside a sweltering house.
There were problems at the same group home a little more than a decade earlier.
Had there been a fire, the national press would have spent days dissecting the failures that led to the mass tragedy. State political leaders would have attended funerals, thumped their chests and called for prayers and systemic reforms.
But there wasn’t a fire. And there wasn’t a state response for five months.
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A year later, Gloria Elam now has half as many residents. The fire escapes are now marked, doors unblocked and screwed-shut windows again open. All 40 fire code violations have been cleared.
A year ago, the state claimed 10 residents were abused. No action followed.
A year ago, the state interviewed residents in front of Elam. They reported being happy, but appeared uneasy.
Elam might be a saint. Residents said she takes care of their medical needs, gives them spending money and takes them to church.
Elam might be less than saintly, cashing 16 residents’ checks would have yielded about $10,000 a month for a cobbled-together existence.
The points of clarity in this case are that the state failed to move rapidly when there was every indication that lives were in peril for at least five months after the initial discovery. Their investigative technique poor, asking questions in front of the woman who could make residents’ lives heaven or hell.
And no matter how much Elam does to help the residents of her Alorton boarding house, the disabilities seem to be more than even a saint should be managing.
Village and state leaders should be working with urgency to fix this, before CNN arrives.