FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Zena Naiditch, President and CEO
(312) 895-7314 (Voice)
Deborah Kennedy, Director of Abuse Investigation Unit
(312) 895-7304 (Voice)
(800) 610-2779 (TTY)
DEATH OF HOWE RESIDENT, PREVIOUSLY INVESTIGATED BY EQUIP FOR EQUALITY, LEADS TO WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT AGAINST STATE
Family of Kenneth Kasprak files suit decrying his easily preventable death, as Equip for Equality renews call for closure of Howe
(CHICAGO, MARCH 2, 2009) –While the decision of the former governor and the Illinois Department of Human Services (“DHS”) to close the federally decertified Howe Developmental Center by June 30th is reportedly under examination by the new Governor, the family of Kenneth Kasprak has filed suit against state officials for his wrongful death at that institution. Two suits were filed on February 25, one in the Circuit Court of Cook County, the other in the Illinois Court of Claims; together they seek damages in excess of $200,000. The suits enumerate egregious lapses in care by a Howe physician and direct care staff, and describe a systemic failure to provide safe care at the state institution.
On February 27, 2008, Kenneth Kasprak, who was diagnosed with mental retardation and a mental illness, died of asphyxiation following a choking incident at Howe Developmental Center. The suits charge that Howe staff’s response to his clear distress was both tardy and negligent, and led to his death.
“Kenneth’s death was not only preventable—it was easily preventable,” said Kevin J. Moore, attorney for the Plaintiff, Evelyn Kasprak, sister of the decedent and administrator of his estate. “Many residents at Howe are on anti-psychotic medication, which leads to increased risk of asphyxiation. Staff should have aware been of the risk and trained on how to respond effectively,” he said. “ But direct care staff either did not recognize that Kenneth was in respiratory distress or failed to grasp its seriousness, and thus did not act quickly or appropriately. When Howe Medical staff help did arrive, the most basic steps in resuscitation were not employed, leading to my client's death.”
The suit follows the drumbeat of cries from experts for closure of the decertified facility for adults with developmental disabilities. It points to lethal deficits in the state-operated institution, consisting of sub-standard care and consistent inattention to residents, problems that Equip for Equality points out will result in continued deaths if Howe remains open.
Twenty-nine deaths of Howe residents have occurred since 2005. “These deaths caused untold grief among families who believed that Howe was protecting, and providing the best care for, their sons, their daughters, their sisters and brothers,” said Deborah Kennedy, Director of Equip for Equality’s Abuse Investigation Unit. “These families learned too late that the reality was much different.”
Howe’s failure to meet even minimum federal Medicaid standards of care resulted in loss of federal certification in March of 2007. DHS made significant, costly efforts to assist Howe in improving care to obtain federal re-certification. But Howe remained unsafe despite those efforts, leading DHS, also, to conclude that Howe should be closed. In response to a complaint filed by Equip for Equality, the U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating Howe.
The State of Illinois lost $40 million in federal funds as a result of Howe's federal decertification and spent an additional $7 million in efforts to rehabilitate Howe. “And each month it costs the State an additional $2.2 million to keep open an institution that continues to victimize some of Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens” said Zena Naiditch, President and CEO of Equip for Equality. “The evidence of substandard care at Howe is overwhelming and irrefutable. Regardless of the former governor’s reasons for directing closure of Howe, it was absolutely the right decision. Politics aside, the only humane and economically responsible conclusion is to support the closure of Howe,” said Naiditch. Equip for Equality calls upon Governor Quinn to immediately reaffirm the state’s intention to close Howe by June 30th
Despite these deaths and despite federal and state government determinations that Howe must be closed, further delay and new roadblocks threaten the closure of Howe. Current Bills in the Illinois House (HB 4, HB 2376) and Senate (SB 327), threaten to prevent closure by shifting decision making authority from the Governor to the Legislature and then systematically delaying closure indefinitely through the appropriations process. This will prevent the State from making a planned and orderly transition for the residents, even when that facility is dangerous.
Equip for Equality is a private, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to advance the rights of people with physical or mental disabilities, including development disabilities and mental illnesses, in Illinois through abuse and neglect investigations, self-advocacy assistance, education, legal services and public policy initiatives. It is designated by the Governor as the state’s protection and advocacy system and has broad statutory powers to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities pursuant to federal law. For more information, visit www.equipforequality.org
Reference: Circuit Court of Cook County; Illinois Court of Claims
Kaspark v. Banergee, et al.