Zena Naiditch, CEO of Equip for Equality
Bryan Zises, Zises Communications, Inc.
Investigators Report Five Additional Deaths, Continued Negligence at Howe, but ‘Illinois Politics’ Stall Institution’s Closure
Twenty-nine deaths since 2005, ongoing documented gross negligence, federal civil rights investigations, decertification by Medicaid, $40 million in lost federal funds and an additional $2.2 million per month… Will Illinois’ new governor finally set aside politics to close Howe?
(Springfield, IL)— The state of Illinois’ federally mandated Protection and Advocacy agency, Equip for Equality, today reported that five additional deaths have occurred at Howe Developmental Center, in Tinley Park, since September 2008. This brings the total number of deaths under alarming circumstances at Howe to 29 since September 2005. There are also dozens of substantiated incidents of severe abuse and neglect over the same time.
“This is the pinnacle of Illinois politics gone awry with deadly consequences,” said Zena Naiditch, CEO of Equip for Equality. “Illinois has lost $40 million in federal funds already, $7 million more has been diverted from other institutions and the community, with an additional $2.2 million more wasted every month, to keep open an institution that continuously victimizes some of Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens.”
The Community for All Coalition and representatives from several disability rights groups again joined Equip for Equality at the State Capitol as they briefed the media. Immediately following the announcement, advocates delivered a copy of their detailed reports of abuse and death, along with 1500 signatures supporting closure, to Illinois’ new Governor, Pat Quinn.
Since 2007, Illinois Department of Human Services officials spent months and $7 million trying to reform the institution, with outside consultants, independent monitors, staff redeployment, contract nursing staff, and more. All these attempts failed, and in September 2008, the Department announced its intention to close Howe.
Nevertheless, local officials and union leaders, concerned about the loss of jobs in the community, have played the political angles to block the closure. This despite the overwhelming number of civil rights groups, disability rights organizations, editorial boards and others that have called for Howe’s closure, including the state’s own oversight agency.
“Even the state agency responsible for oversight wants to close Howe,” said Lester Pritchard of the Campaign for Real Choice. “But political maneuvering continues to keep the most wasteful, most expensive, most toxic institution in Illinois in business despite all logic. Now we hope that our new Governor can overcome this deadly inertia and close Howe immediately.”
The federal government decertified Howe from Medicaid in March 2007 due to its failure to maintain even the most minimal standards of care, costing Illinois millions of dollars in lost matching funds every month. The Unites States Department of Justice opened an investigation into civil rights violations at Howe in December 2007 as well. That investigation remains pending.
Detailed findings The current report identified serious problems with the care provided to the five who died including:
- A Howe physician erroneously failed to order the medications necessary to address dangerously high cholesterol levels, making only recommendations for dietary changes, which were not followed by staff. When the error was corrected, after nearly a year of dangerously high cholesterol levels, the individual died of a cardiac arrest less than two weeks later.
- An autopsy revealed that an individual who died of a necrotic (dead) bowel aspirated solid food into his lungs prior to his death despite being on a pureed diet to prevent choking. Direct care staff not only failed to ensure that the individual’s food was safe, they also failed to document any signs of the respiratory distress which commonly occurs, such as coughing, as a result of the aspiration of food into the lungs.
Reports by Equip for Equality over the past two years have revealed many instances of abuse and neglect, including:
- staff left individuals in urine soaked clothing,
- staff failed to provide enough food and drink, resulting in evidence of malnutrition and dehydration
- staff physicians falsified documentation.
- an individual broke his arm while staff was supposed to be with him at all times,
- Howe nurses failed to appropriately monitor and address dangerously low blood sugar levels in a diabetic resident,
- Howe staff failed to document cause of injury of a resident resulting in paraplegia
- Resident suffered a severe neck injury when Howe staff put him in restraints against doctor's orders
- a Howe nurse stuck a resident with a pin who was found not breathing and without a pulse, rather than perform CPR
Illinois is 51st in the nation in community-based care Every other state in the nation has shifted their systems of care for people with developmental disabilities further towards community-based settings than Illinois. According to a national study (Braddock, et. al., State of the States) Illinois ranks last in the nation, including the District of Columbia, for providing community-based care.
“Community settings provide all the services that people with developmental disabilities require, but are less expensive than Howe, healthier for the people they serve, and better for the local economy,” said Naiditch. “Illinois is stuck in an antiquated, outmoded system of institutional services that segregates and isolates people with disabilities from the rest of society and thwarts independence. We all suffer the consequences.”
Organizations involved with today’s event included Equip for Equality, Progress Center for Independent Living, Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, Campaign for Real Choice in Illinois, Institute on Public Policy, Illinois Voices, People First of Illinois, Community for All Coalition, the Arc of Illinois and Chicago ADAPT.
About Equip for Equality Designated in 1985 as the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy System, Equip for Equality conducts abuse investigations and other oversight activities for people with disabilities in Illinois. In addition, Equip for Equality provides self-advocacy assistance, legal services, and disability rights education while also engaging in public policy and legislative advocacy. For more information, visit www.equipforequality.org