Pritzker to move residents, restructure developmental center

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Wednesday the restructuring of a troubled center housing developmentally disabled residents after months of media reports about resident abuse by staff and attempts to cover it up.

Pritzker will move more than half of the residents from the Choate Developmental Center in southern Illinois — 123 people who live there voluntarily — to other state-supported facilities or community-based homes.

The remaining 112, some of whom were ordered by criminal courts to Choate because of their disabilities, will remain while authorities determine the best placement for them and while they redesign Choate’s campus and program for safer and better care.

The upheaval of the center in Anna, 123 miles (198 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis, follows months of reporting by Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises and Pro Publica. They uncovered evidence of staff assaults on residents, efforts by staffers to cover up abuse and the intimidation of new employees to participate or keep quiet about the conduct.

The reports indicated that 49 people, both staff and residents, have faced felony charges for misconduct since 2015.

Pritzker’s plan involves intervention by Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine to help most of the current residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities transition to other state facilities or group homes. The 123 residents moving initially will have up to three years to relocate.

The Democratic governor does not mention closing Choate or layoffs of any employees. Roberta Lynch, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents Choate employees, said in a statement that AFSCME will “protect the jobs of Choate’s dedicated and compassionate employees, and our union will continue our close alliance with the Friends of Choate family group to ensure that no resident is forced out of their home without their consent.”

The Department of Human Services, which runs Choate, has named Ryan Thomas to the new position of chief resident safety officer to monitor conduct and conditions in the state’s developmental centers. Thomas previously was Human Services’ operations program manager, overseeing quality, safety and health care. Her duties included care of 2,000 asylum seeker bused last fall from the Mexican border to Chicago.

The Human Services Department will also add 10 investigators to the staff of the agency’s inspector general.

___ Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor.

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