Downstate Republicans on Wednesday renewed their calls for the Pritzker administration to overhaul its handling of the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna, following reported issues of staff misconduct and patient abuse.


Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, told reporters in a virtual press conference that “time and time again, we’ve seen this administration fail to fully prioritize our developmentally disabled community.”


“It’s our state’s duty, of course, to ensure that all of the facilities that serve the vulnerable community provide the best possible care, whether that facility is a (Department of Human Services) facility, whether a state-run facility or an approved, privately owned, community-based facility,” she said.


Abuses at the center first came into focus after reporting by ProPublica, Lee Enterprises and Capitol News Illinois.


A report released last month by the DHS Office of the Inspector General called for a “fundamental overhaul of the system” at the center.


“Although changing a facility’s culture is by no means a simple task, the first step in that process is recognizing that there is indeed a problem,” the report noted. “Stated plainly, the status quo at (the center) is not acceptable.”


DHS Secretary Grace Hou said in response that they are making changes to address the center’s culture, like hiring new leadership and developing new staff trainings.


“These changes will bring Illinois in closer alignment with nationwide, research-informed best practices, advance the state’s commitment to equity and the civil rights of people with disabilities, and meet the state’s legal duty to ensure that residents with disabilities have a full opportunity to live in the least restrictive environment of their choosing,” Hou said.


The administration announced this spring that it would partner with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine to repurpose the facility’s services to better meet residents’ needs and offer many residents the chance to transition to community-based settings or other state centers.


But Bryant and Republicans want further action, like firing administrators at the center. They also reiterated their call for the Democrat-led General Assembly to hold hearings on the situation at Choate and the administration’s handling of the matter.

“We need this administration to go on the public record,” Bryant said.