SPRINGFIELD — Employees at a troubled downstate mental health center repeatedly covered up staff misconduct even as the facility was under state scrutiny following allegations that residents were abused and neglected, according to a state government watchdog report released Friday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker in March laid out a multiyear “repurposing” plan for the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna in partnership with the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine that was designed to improve conditions and offer residents the option to move to other facilities.

At the time, an investigation of Choate by the inspector general for the Illinois Department of Human Services that began in September was still underway. According to the newly released IG report, investigators found that “there appear to be fundamental problems with all aspects of that system,” including repeated instances of staff members deliberately covering up misconduct they either engaged in or witnessed.

The IG’s office also found that staff was either “failing to report misconduct, or seeking to report that misconduct anonymously, in fear of possible retaliation from their fellow employees.”

“Even security officers do not want to speak up,” the IG report stated. In one instance, the report also stated, a Choate employee said that as a trainee, “you did not speak up for fear of losing your job.”

Many of the problems at Choate were made public last year in an investigation by ProPublica, Capitol News Illinois and Lee Enterprises that found Illinois State Police had launched at least 40 criminal probes over the past decade into alleged employee misconduct at the facility.

Choate employees have been charged criminally more than a dozen times over the years on allegations that include everything from beating up residents to forcing a resident to drink a cup of hot sauce. Workers have also been cited for not reporting abuse and obstructing investigations and lying to state police.

Republican lawmakers have blasted the Pritzker administration for its handling of the issues at Choate. In the plan unveiled earlier this year, the governor called for “new safety enhancements” at not only Choate but across all other state-run developmental centers. The plan also calls for the appointment of a new statewide chief resident safety officer.

In addition, Pritzker said his administration has provided more training for staff, more indoor and outdoor cameras, an increase of about a half-dozen security workers and an “increased management presence in living areas and professional staff presence after hours.”

The IG report criticized Choate officials for “a lack of accuracy and thoroughness” in keeping records of various allegations.

“A (Choate) employee stated that individuals are instructed not to call (the inspector general’s office) and are threatened with the loss of privileges, such as no access to trust funds, home visits canceled, or no outside time,” the IG report said.

In interviews, employees said it’s difficult for patients who want to report misconduct. Patients must ask staff to use a phone in the facility and tell staff who they’re calling and posters for the IG’s hotline, which includes a number to call to report an allegation, are sometimes removed, the report stated.

Multiple patients at Choate said the phones are sometimes broken and not fixed for days, the report said. And if staffers are reported “nothing happens to them” and they come back to work, and threaten to “write up” the patients.

The report said “a fundamental overhaul of the system is needed to establish a new culture where the reporting of abuse is automatic and not an act of courage”


Source link

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *