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Pritzker Administration Announces Transformation Initiative for State-Operated Developmental Centers

Press Release - Wednesday, March 08, 2023

SIU to advise on future operations and expanded mental health services

Springfield- Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) today announced a critical transformation initiative that will reshape the way the State approaches care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

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

In coordination with their families and guardians, and with support from the SIU School of Medicine, most current I/DD residents at the Choate Center in Anna, Illinois will have the opportunity to transition into community-based settings or other State centers where they will receive comprehensive, personalized care.

The transformation at Choate 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. It also reflects the State's legal duty to ensure residents with disabilities have a full opportunity to live in the least restrictive environment of their choosing.

During the next three years, portions of the Choate campus will be repurposed to meet patient capacity and other urgent State needs. Safe, gradual, carefully planned resident transitions will take place in close coordination with residents themselves, and their families and/or guardians. Resident well-being and dignity will guide every step of the process.

The 229-acre Choate campus currently also includes a psychiatric hospital, an IDHS local public benefits office, and two case processing centers. Related improvements and upgrades will be made to put the buildings and grounds to the best possible public uses for many years to come.

"All people with I/DD deserve opportunities to live, work, and thrive in the least restrictive setting of their choosing. IDHS is grateful to all of our partners, including family and resident advocates, SIU School of Medicine, the Illinois Council for Developmental Disabilities, Equip for Equality, and the Arc of Illinois, for working with us in good faith to build a system that better supports person-first, community-focused care for all people with disabilities," said Grace B. Hou, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services.

While this initiative will be carried out over several years, IDHS is taking additional, immediate action to protect resident safety, including hiring ten new staff for the Office of the Inspector General and appointing Ryan Thomas as IDHS' first-ever Chief Resident Safety Officer. Ryan brings extensive patient safety and regulatory compliance experience to the role, most recently serving as the IDHS Operations Program Manager, where she has led critical operational functions directly related to quality, safety, and healthcare. Prior, she served as the Director of Compliance and Risk Management at Erie Family Health Center.

IDHS is also partnering with the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities (ICDD) and the Arc of Illinois to launch a Family Liaison Team to support families, guardians, and residents with questions and concerns about the change to provide peer support, resources, and friendship for those experiencing fear and/or uncertainty. This team will be meeting regularly over the next several years to ensure that all resident transition needs, regardless of setting, are managed holistically.

"The safety and well-being of the residents we care for is the cornerstone of our work. In the months and years ahead, we will do even more to ensure safe, dependable, and equitable care for those residing in IDHS' 24/7 facilities," said Ryan Thomas, Chief Resident Safety Officer, Illinois Department of Human Services. The transformation of the system will best position our residents for comprehensive care moving forward. As Chief Resident Safety Officer, I am committed to developing and carrying out a comprehensive approach to high-quality and safe care through continuous improvement in safety policies, assessments, systems, and processes."

Over the last two decades, Equip for Equality, the independent, federally mandated Protection and Advocacy organization, the IDHS Inspector General, and the Illinois State Police have all been instrumental in reviewing abuse and neglect allegations at the Choate Center and making constructive recommendations to the State about the Center's future.

"The IDHS OIG commends IDHS for recognizing that the status quo at Choate is not acceptable and for taking tangible steps to reduce abuse and neglect at the facility. OIG will continue to be a dedicated watchdog at Choate and throughout the state to ensure that the vulnerable populations OIG serve receive the respectful care they deserve," said Peter Neumer, Inspector General, IDHS Office of the Inspector General.

While resident transitions will initially focus on Choate, IDHS will work to expand its emphasis on community-based settings across the developmental health system. With the investments included in Governor Pritzker's FY24 budget proposal, IDHS will have increased funding to the Home and Community-Based System by $800 million. This brings total funding to $1.7 billion, nearly double from when the Governor took office. In the years ahead, IDHS will work to further expand community-based capacity which will result in a lowered resident headcount and improved staffing ratios at State developmental centers.

This transformation is anchored by a partnership with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Led by Dr. Kari M. Wolf, CEO of the Behavioral Health Workforce Center, partners from SIU will help shape the transformation, leading on 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. Leaders from SIU Carbondale and the Springfield-based School of Medicine will provide ongoing expertise on the broader transformation.

"SIU School of Medicine's mission is to optimize the health of the people of central and southern Illinois. We are confident that through the leadership of the Behavioral Health Workforce Center, our clinical excellence, and our focus on the most vulnerable, we can serve the patients, families, and staff connected to the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center. We are committed to a mental health workforce transformation across the state. That work begins by objectively assessing the safety, patient care, and workforce needs of Choate," said Kari M. Wolf, MD, CEO, Behavioral Health Workforce Center.

Many quality improvement and safety precautions have already been implemented and are ongoing. This transformation will enable current residents to identify other State-supported residential options, including in the community and at other developmental centers.

"The transformation of Choate Developmental Center is the right next step in the State's process of improving how services are delivered to individuals with significant needs. As the Chair of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities I am committed to ensuring an Illinois where all people have access to equal opportunity and freedom. We look forward to partnering with IDHS to meet the needs of Choate's residents, now, during transitions, and into the future through quality, person-centered services that prioritize community inclusion," said Stephanie Brown, Chairperson of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities.

"Big changes are never easy - but I appreciate how Governor Pritzker's team has approached this transformation effort. Some of our earlier concerns have been addressed and we are grateful that our voices have been heard. I believe Southern Illinois will be stronger for the improvements that are being announced today," said State Representative Dr. Paul Jacobs, R-Pomona.

"I commend Governor Pritzker for taking strong, thoughtful, decisive action to improve Illinois' system of care for people with developmental disabilities and serious mental illness. Together with residents, patients, families, guardians, and hardworking State government staff and healthcare providers, I am confident IDHS is beginning a new and positive chapter in the history of the Choate Center," said State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria).

The Division of Developmental Disabilities at the Illinois Department of Human Services operates seven State-operated developmental centers across Illinois. These centers provide residential support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and a variety of treatment programs/services, including but not limited to: educational, vocational, physical, and behavioral healthcare needs, and recreational. The Division operates three Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid Waivers serving over 24,000 individuals via adult community integrated living arrangements, child group homes, and child and adult home-based programs in addition to day programming and other ancillary services.

The Division of Mental Health at the Illinois Department of Human Services operates eight State-Run psychiatric hospital facilities across Illinois, including a smaller facility on the campus of Choate Developmental Center. These hospitals provide civil and forensic psychiatric hospitalization for individuals experiencing severe mental illness.

About the Illinois Department of Human Services
The Illinois Department of Human Services is Illinois' largest State agency, with more than 13,000 employees. IDHS provides residents across the State with access to human services and is home to six major Divisions: Developmental Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family and Community Services, Mental Health, Rehabilitation Services, and Substance Use Prevention & Recovery. IDHS also oversaw Illinois' Census 2020 office and more recently established the Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, Chief Behavioral Health Office, and the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. The IDHS is rooted in working collaboratively with counties, cities, and communities, as well as our public, private, faith, and educational partners to make Illinois a healthy, vibrant, inclusive place to live, work, learn, and grow.

About SIU School of Medicine
SIU School of Medicine is a publicly assisted medical school and a clinical practice focused on the health care needs of downstate Illinois. The School of Medicine is part of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The mission of SIU School of Medicine is to optimize the health of the people of central and southern Illinois through education, patient care, research and service to the community. For more than 50 years, SIU School of Medicine has been an innovative leader in medical education and a key player in the development of the regional academic medical center in Springfield.

About the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities
The Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities (ICDD) works to promote the independence, productivity, integration, and inclusion of those with disabilities. Moreover, the purpose of ICDD is to ensure that people with developmental disabilities participate and be included in everyday life, and be able to choose the services and supports that best fit their needs. To accomplish this, ICDD makes investments in people and organizations that serve people with disabilities throughout the State of Illinois.
More on Ryan Thomas:

Ryan Thomas brings to this role over 15 years of regulatory compliance, patient safety, and change management experience. She is a certified Change Management Agent and has led process improvement projects to improve operations and patient outcomes in various health care organizations, such as Erie Family Health Center, The Joint Commission, and the Renaissance at South Shore Nursing Home.

Ryan has served at IDHS as the Operations Program Manager, where she has led critical operational functions directly related to quality, safety, and healthcare, including leading health and infection control for over 2,000+ Asylum Seekers served by IDHS throughout Cook County. She has also been intimately involved in the management of IDHS' Bureau of Licensing, Accreditation, and Certification, where she worked to directly improve licensing services for care providers of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the state.
Prior to joining IDHS, Ryan was Director of Compliance and Risk Management at Erie Family Health Centers, a community health system in Chicago with 13 locations providing care to over 80,000 patients. At Erie, she oversaw the system-wide risk management and patient safety program, the corporate compliance program, managed litigation claims, and coordinated activities to sustain Joint Commission accreditation, Health Resources and Services Administration deeming designation, and Primary Care Medical Home certification.

Ryan was recognized by The Joint Commission and the Illinois Primary Health Care Association (IPHCA) for her efforts in improving patient-centered care and was the recipient of both the 2020 IPHCA's Clinical Quality Champion Award and the 2016 Swider Outstanding Achievement Award for being a leader in patient safety and quality.

Ryan received her Master of Public Health with distinction from DePaul University and her Bachelor of Science in Health Care Management at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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