Senate advances bill to log abuse cover-ups in state health care registry
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By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A measure spurred by reports of abuse at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday and will head to the House.
The bill would prohibit health care workers who have been the subject of a substantiated claim of “material obstruction” of an abuse investigation from further employment in the health care field.
Those workers would be added to the Department of Public Health’s Health Care Worker Registry, which tracks the subjects of substantiated complaints. It would also prohibit anyone with a substantiated complaint of physical or sexual abuse, financial exploitation, egregious neglect, or material obstruction from “any involvement in any capacity” with state-funded mental health or developmental disability services.
“Material obstruction” would be defined to include several types of witness and evidence tampering and knowingly presenting false information to investigators.
The initiative is backed by the Illinois Department of Human Services’ inspector general, whose office would be charged with substantiating such an investigation.
“This past year and for many years before, there were reports of individuals at state facilities being injured in their centers,” Sen. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, said on the Senate floor. “It is the job of the state to protect our most vulnerable, to ensure the health safety and financial condition of people with mental illness and or developmental disabilities from abuse and neglect.”
Fine said the legislation was spurred by recent reports of abuse at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in downstate Anna. Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises Midwest and ProPublica published a monthslong news investigation revealing a culture of abuse and cover-ups at the facility.
IDHS Inspector General Peter Neumer spoke in favor of Senate Bill 855 in committee on Tuesday. He said he expected his office would invoke the new provisions “likely a handful of times each year..”
“If you are found out that you did obstruct an investigation, you lied, you falsified information, a report or something of that nature, you could jeopardize your career in the health care industry,” he said. “And we believe that deterrent would be important because we need people to come forth, to speak up, to say what they’ve seen, so that we can ensure that abuse and neglect is not occurring.”
Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, whose district includes Choate, said the bill was “extremely important” in light of the allegations of abuse.
“It’s time we really get this on the radar,” he said during Senate debate.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.