Details for FRIENDS OF CHOATE - Ad from 2023-03-16

An Open Letter to
Governor Pritzker from
Friends of Choate
March 15, 2023
Dear Governor Pritzker:
The Illinois Department of Human
Services is targeting 123 residents of
Choate Developmental Center for
removal from their homes. We, the family
members and guardians of these residents,
were blindsided. We were personally
assured by members of your
administration that Choate would not
close and to disregard the rumors
circulating in the wake of negative media
attention about the facility. We were
lulled by discussions about security
upgrades, activities, and capital
improvements. We learned one day prior
to your administration’s announcement
that our wards and loved ones will be
moved out of Choate and that,
technically, what we were told about
Choate not closing was true because some
units will remain open, at least for now.
We also learned that leaving part of
Choate open allows evasion of the
statutory requirements of the Commission
on Government Forecasting and
Accountability (COGFA) for a full
Your administration’s plan is to move
people with significant developmental
disabilities and severe behavior disorders
to Community Integrated Living
Arrangements (CILAs) or to other State
Operated Developmental Centers
(SODCs). The clear emphasis is on
relocating these individuals to the
community, where group homes are often
staffed by low-wage, temporary workers.
The history of previous SODC closures
tells us that some of these 123 people will
be confined to a home without the
freedom offered by a larger campus like
Choate’s, some will not receive their
scheduled medication, some will not be
fed regularly, some will wander away
from inattentive staff, and some will be
arrested. Tragically, the history of SODC
closures also tells us that some may die.
These are real people with names and
people who love them. Many have lived in
their homes for years or even decades.
They have recreational activities and oncampus jobs. The residents know one
another. Some have difficulty
communicating with words or are
completely nonverbal, but they know the
staff and the staff know them. The staff
includes behaviorists, doctors, and nurses
who know residents’ routines and likes
and dislikes and the hundred little things
that contribute to happiness, stability, and
a fulfilling life.

These Choate homes targeted for closure
are certified by Public Health and
overseen by that organization to ensure
compliance with federal regulations. They
are also overseen by the DHS Office of
Inspector General. Any abuse or neglect
violations are reported through that
office. The level of accountability at
Choate is far higher than in community
placements where self reporting of abuse
is less likely.
The justifications provided for moving
these residents are troubling. For instance,
it was cited that Illinois has one of the
higher numbers of SODCs in the country,
which therefore should be reduced, as if
the country’s decades-long trend to close
SODCs should be followed. The move to
eliminate the SODC model, no matter
how slow or stealthy, would violate the
Supreme Court’s guidelines in Olmstead
and the Medicaid State Plan, and could be
regarded as unlawfully discriminatory
under both Medicaid and the ADA.
Governor, you should be proud – and
Illinois should be proud – to have more
SODCs than the many states that fail to
treat high needs individuals. These other
states often leave these vulnerable people
to jails or the street. Illinois should not
chase this trend. Illinois should continue
to serve its most vulnerable with dignity
and compassion.
Another justification for closure of units
was the recent series of negative stories
about Choate. All cases of abuse are
terrible. It is Choate’s system of
accountability that ensured that these
cases were reported and referred for
prosecution. It is this system of
accountability that is being twisted against
Choate to justify its closure of units.
Community placements have no such
levels of accountability. Further, this
extreme reaction to negative press
victimizes the residents who must move
from their homes - losers in a political
game they do not understand. Removing
residents does not make them safer. It
upends their lives and, for many of those
who go to community placements, it
makes them less safe.
We ask that the vulnerable residents of
Choate be allowed to keep their home.
Rita Burke, President, Friends of Choate
Friends of Choate and the Illinois League
of Advocates for the Developmentally
Disabled, ILADD, fully endorse the
positions presented in this letter.