Finding solutions: Lawmakers and CILA directors hope to oust group home abuse and neglect cases
ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Accusations of physical abuse, claiming a staff member pushed a patient to the ground and then into a chair. Complaints of mental abuse that accuse staff of refusing to let a patient sleep. Allegations of neglect, with claims that a patient suffered seizures when staff didn’t give a resident proper medication.
What do these stories have in common? They are cases, lodged against area community integrated living arrangements (CILAs), investigated and confirmed by Illinois’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
CILA homes are, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS), “a living arrangement for adults in a group home, family home or apartment where eight or fewer unrelated adults with developmental disabilities live under supervision of the community developmental services agency.”
Illinois’ 74th District Representative Bradley Fritts represents the Dixon area, which is home to the CILA Kreider Services. He currently co-sponsors House Bill 3545 which would introduce new regulations to state CILAs.
“We’re talking about some of the most vulnerable we have as a community, and we have to protect them,” explains Fritts. He says the proposed legislation would “make sure there’s no repeated instances of abuse or neglect prior to that hire date.”
The bill’s section on background checks would prevent anyone with previous violations from being directly involved with patient care. It requires violations at CILAs to be reported within five days of the incident. It also upgrades instances of battery by CILA staffers to Class 2 felonies.
Kreider Services Executive Director Jeff Stauter says he doesn’t this this bill is necessary; he says where CILAs struggle is with staffing and wages. Staff pay is set by the state.
“The strengths are the people who work here, the people we support, the parents and activists who have built this organization over 70 years,” says Sauter. He adds, “We pay $15.55 as a starting wage, but you may be able to go fast food or a coffee place and make 17 dollars an hour.”
A 2018 audit revealed major issues with how DHS oversees the homes. The report ordered several immediate changes, citing a lack of properly trained CILA staff, timely employee reviews, documented violations and punishments given. This could include revoking a CILAs license if non compliant. It noted changes to federal group home regulation laws were implemented by DHS nearly three and a half years late.
Representative Fritts chalks the lack of action up to politics. He says, “It just comes back to politics. It’s blocked by the majority party because they don’t want us to have the credit for it.”
However, Democratic Representative Dave Vella of the 68th District says he would support the bill if it made it out of committee, and he would support steeper punishments.
“I think the penalty should be a little more stringent and a little stricter, probably a higher class of felony. There’s a special responsibility someone takes on in a place like this. If they violate and abuse, they should be really punished,” Vella argues.
Stauter says regulatory systems are in place, instead he wants lawmakers to better support staff.
“We’ve been working very hard in Springfield to get wages for our direct support professionals, our DSPs, raised by four dollars an hour because it’s a hard job.”
He adds, checks already exist to for battery against residents.
“Battery is violence,” Stauter states. “We train our folks, if it is criminal violence, you call the police.”
Despite their differences, all three agree CILAs are full of people who simply want to help their community’s most vulnerable.
Stauter summarizes the situation by saying, “There are thousands and thousands of people who have lived in group homes and have had wonderful experiences. Having systems in place to reduce the chance for abuse and neglect and then punish wrongdoers. That’s what you can hope for.”
23 WIFR did reach out to the other CILA homes referenced in this investigation. Those that did not comment in part one declined. DHS also did not comment.
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