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Ill. House OKs tougher oversight of group homes

Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 2:47 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – The beating death of a mentally disabled man living in a group home, and the disclosure that officials knew the home was unsafe, could lead to increased protection of people with disabilities.

The Illinois House voted 115-0 Wednesday to toughen oversight of group homes. Abuse allegations would trigger state reviews. New managers could be brought in to run unsafe homes. Employees would undergo periodic background checks. More inspection records and abuse reports would be available to the public.

The measure now goes to the Senate.

The legislation was inspired by the death of 42-year-old Paul McCann, who was beaten to death in January at a group home in Charleston.

Two of the home's employees have been charged with murder, accused of kicking and punching McCann for 45 minutes because he stole food. They have pleaded not guilty.

McCann "did not deserve to be beaten to death because he took a cookie without permission," Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told his fellow legislators. "Ladies and gentlemen, you heard me correctly. He was beaten to death by an employee of this home who was entrusted with his care because he took a cookie without permission."

Records obtained by The Associated Press show Illinois officials knew residents had been abused at the network of group homes that included McCann's facility.

Conditions at homes run by the nonprofit Graywood Foundation were "totally unacceptable," according to a 2009 memo an Illinois investigator wrote.

The memo was written almost a year after murder charges were filed against two employees in the 2008 death of Dustin Higgins, another resident who lived in a Graywood group home.

The state eventually stopped them from admitting new residents, but the families of people already living at the homes say they had no idea about the problems.

Illinois now has 9,300 adults with developmental disabilities living in group homes, family homes and apartments run by more than 200 community agencies.

The group homes, known as CILAs for "community integrated living arrangements," are likely to be used more widely in Illinois after a lawsuit over the civil rights of adults with disabilities.

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