* Yesterday, we discussed the Belleville News Democrat’s story about how the Inspector General for the Department of Human Services refused to investigate suspicious deaths of people in home care because they were dead and, therefore, under his insane interpretation of state law, no longer qualified for DHS services.
As you might imagine, legislative reaction has been furious…
“It is very disturbing to say the least,” said Sen. William Haine, D-Alton. “I think the OIG owes each and every member of the General Assembly a full explanation of these facts … I think this calls for some supplemental legislation that should involve other stakeholders like state’s attorneys and coroners.”
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, refuted the OIG’s interpretation of the 2000 law that gave it increased powers to investigate abuse and neglect of disabled adults who live outside of state facilities.
“It doesn’t seem to be that there’s any lacking of specificity in the law,” Harris said. “I don’t see this nonsense about, well, “We can’t provide services once they’re deceased.”
The OIG should be looking into cases of neglect and abuse of a disabled person, especially when a death follows an allegation, Harris said. The agency has a responsibility to investigate, Harris said, and to turn over cases where neglect or abuse is suspected of being involved to law enforcement.
“We need to find out how this is being allowed to happen,” Harris said. “We need to find out if it’s a failure of individuals, we need to figure out if it’s a failure of the system. Or, if it’s a failure of how a law or rule is drafted, whichever one of those it is or all three of them, we have to fix it.”
State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, said the OIG’s main purpose is to investigate abuse and neglect of the disabled.
“That someone dies is a lame reason not to follow through. They have always been tasked with this,” Kay said. “If we don’t have the ability to pursue causes of death in these cases to their logical end, then we should take it out (of the law). But it seems it was put there for good reason.”
* Meanwhile, the DHS Inspector General is expected to issue some sort of statement today. I’ll have it for you if it ever materializes. But I want to go back to a passage that was in the story we looked at yesterday…
Top state officials declined to talk about how the agency operates. OIG Director William M. Davis, a retired Illinois State Police regional commander, initially agreed to an interview, but [DHS spokeswoman Januari Smith-Trader] later said that neither Davis nor his boss, Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle R. B. Saddler, were available.
In subsequent emails, Smith-Trader accused a reporter of possibly breaking state and federal privacy laws by being in possession of private case summaries not open to the public. [Emphasis added.]
It seems to me that DHS was trying to kill a hugely unflattering story by using an empty threat of prosecution against two of this state’s best investigative reporters. Rather than rectify their incredibly stupid behavior, DHS lashed out at the people who were trying to expose this despicable policy to the public. It was a clear act of desperation on the part of DHS, and they need to be called out on it.
The governor also needs to be dragged into this mess. He needs to be pressed on it until he agrees to push DHS into compliance with the law. Some firings wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
And, frankly, the entire Inspector General concept needs to be revisited by the General Assembly. You’ve got some IG’s making sure people don’t eat sandwiches at their desks and others refusing to investigate deaths.