Gov. Pritzker announces plans to move residents, improve Choate Mental Health Center in Anna

Changes are coming to Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in southern Illinois.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 10:40 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 8, 2023 at 10:04 PM CST
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ANNA, Ill. (KFVS) - Changes are coming to Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in southern Illinois.

Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Human Services announced on Wednesday morning, March 8 the state will be reshaping the care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In a released statement, the governor’s office said over the next three years portions of the Choate campus will be repurposed to meet patient capacity and other State needs.

The governor’s office also said, the state will help residents gradually transition to a new facility.

Residents will have the choice to transition into community-based settings or other state-run centers.

The governor’s office described the plan as a “critical transformation initiative” of the center, care and operations, which includes support from the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

The following is an outline of the initiative:

  • Repurposing the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center over three years in partnership with the SIU School of Medicine
  • Implementing new safety enhancements at Choate and across all State-Operated Developmental Centers, including appointing a Chief Resident Safety Officer
  • Expanding support for families and individuals to pursue opportunities for community-based living, while continuing to invest in provider capacity

According to IDHS, Choate currently has six living units on campus, which serves 270 individuals and patients. Of these patients, IDHS reports 227 have intellectual/developmental disabilities and 43 are mental health patients.

Choate’s 229-acre campus also includes a psychiatric hospital, an IDHS local public benefits office and two case processing centers.

Gov. Pritzker’s office stated IDHS is taking additional, immediate action to protect resident safety. A Family Liaison Team will be formed to help to support families, guardians and residents with questions and concerns about the change.

The governor’s office named Ryan Thomas as Choate’s chief resident safety officer and 10 new staff members will be hired for the Office of the Inspector General.

Leaders from SIU Carbondale and the Springfield-based School of Medicine will be part of the process.

Pritzker’s office said the mission of SIU will be to help shape the transformation, lead crucial operational components, including whether specialized I/DD forensic, step-down, and dual diagnosis units should remain on the Choate campus or be located elsewhere.

AFSCME Council 31, the union representing 468 Choate staff members, issued a statement following the governor’s announcement.

“We’re extremely concerned about the fate of Choate Developmental Center residents and the employees who make Choate home for them,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “We intend to make certain that the well-being of the more than 200 residents of the Choate home is given the foremost consideration, now and in the future. AFSCME will work to 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.”

Gov. Pritzker stated the transformation of Choate will moves Illinois in closer alignment with nationwide, research-informed best practices, advances the state’s commitment to equity and the civil rights of people with disabilities.

“Individuals with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve respect, dignity, and the highest quality of care to assist them in living healthy, fulfilling lives,” said Pritzker. “This transformation initiative, spearheaded by IDHS, will standardize and improve conditions across the system and prioritize community-based solutions to ensure vulnerable Illinoisans receive care in the best possible setting.”

Pritzker’s office also said there are plans to make improvements and upgrades to the buildings and grounds for future public use.

Ona Rivero Winfield spoke on behalf of all Choate employees as Local 141 AFCME Union’s President. She has also been an employee at Choate for eighteen years. She said staff was blindsided by the Governor’s announcement.

“We are wanting to know more because that information really wasn’t privy to us, we just found out, actually yesterday,” Rivero Winfield said.

She said staff members have always reported misconduct and are dedicated to patient’s needs.

“People are dedicated to other people and the compassion that is shown on a daily basis,” she said. “And that side of the story is not told.”

State Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) released the following statement on Wednesday:

“My priority has always been and will continue to be the residents of Choate and their families. They deserve nothing short of total transparency about this process and their options. While my heart goes out to the families and residents of the Choate Mental Health and Development Center, who will be forced to relocate, I remain committed to working with the Administration to ensure that all future action taken is in their best interest and care. We owe our most vulnerable nothing less.”

The Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities also issued a statement.

“We welcome the leadership decision made by Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Human Services to repurpose Choate in light of the terrible and tragic media reports of abuse and neglect there of those with intellectual/developmental disabilities. We believe everyone has a right to live a life of dignity and to be safe and free from harm. These troubling reports made clear that decisive action was needed and justified.

“We appreciate the Choate plan considers our recommendations to take the time necessary to work with our provider community going forward and to ensure residents can transition to the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.

“This is a first step, and now our work must focus on ensuring the transition is made smoothly and appropriately. We also hope the public conversation around needs for the I/DD community is continuing, not ending.

“Governor Pritzker’s statement appropriately notes investments our state has made to-date in community-based services, but that work is long from finished. We will be advocating for a $4 per hour wage rate increase for the direct service professionals (DSPs) who serve and support persons with disabilities in community settings. We need to fully fund the remainder of the Guidehouse rate study to provide support for long-term, sustainable quality care by community providers. We have to ensure our state regulations and policies governing the I/DD services provided at every level can best meet those people who have high-support needs – in our state institutions, and in the community settings.

“We look forward to getting to work with the Legislature and Pritzker Administration to take these issues head on and to put the tragic stories of Choate in our past.”

State leaders and investigators started looking into Choate after allegations and reports of misconduct and abuse.

A Union County Grand Jury issued True-Bill Indictments against three top administrators at Choate in June 2020, five employees were accused of abusing patients in October 2020, a mental health technician was accused of abusing a resident in November 2020 and two former employees were arrested in January 2020 in connection to allegations of abuse in March 2018.