Lawmakers pledge to address unregulated homes for mentally ill

The building on South Wentworth that Bridging the Gap lists as its office | Credit: Geoff Dougherty
  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • July 31, 2009 @ 2:30 PM

Key state lawmakers say the lack of regulation of some Illinois group homes for the mentally ill is “terrifying” and that more oversight is needed.

“We ought to be licensing them. We do it for daycare, for crying out loud,” says State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), chair of the House state government administration committee.

Franks says he will ask Gov. Pat Quinn to facilitate eliminating a loophole that allows some group homes serving the mentally ill and others with disabilities to operate without registering with the state. Such homes purport to offer rehabilitation and therapeutic services, but do not have to adhere to state standards or monitoring. Mental health advocates complain that these homes are nearly impossible to find.

A Daily News investigation published on Thursday uncovered the loophole after looking into the case of a mentally ill man who was missing for six days before a South Side group home notified his family. The Bridging the Gap home is operating even though its parent company is dissolved, its property is foreclosed upon, its business office is boarded up and its phones are disconnected, the Daily News found.

Group homes that receive government money are required to be certified by the Illinois Department of Human Services. Those that provide services such as nursing care are registered with the Department of Public Health.

But homes that provide some services and receive no government money can operate under the radar, sometimes in deplorable conditions that can have serious consequences for residents and their families.

“That’s terrifying to me,” says Franks, adding that the loophole is akin to discrimination against those who cannot afford facilities that are subsidized by the government.

Franks and others say the lack of oversight of group homes for the mentally ill is a problem the state must address. Some say oversight legislation should be introduced when lawmakers begin their legislative session in January.

“There’s no question that there’s a need for further regulation, and as a matter of fact, regulation, period,” says Rep. Andre Thapedi (D-Chicago). Bridging the Gap is located in his legislative district.

Thapedi, who met with Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) and others recently to discuss treatment disparities at local nursing homes, says the group home issue is one of many the General Assembly must address.

“It’s a hodgepodge of problems. We are working on a strategy to combat them,” he says.

Still, lawmakers say they need more information. Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago), members of the Senate’s human services committee, say they want more information on the scope of the problem.

“I think that whenever an organization opens their doors, there should always be regulation. Always, always someone should be accountable for someone, especially if they open their doors to take care of a loved one,” says Hunter, chairwoman of the human services committee.

Hunter, however, suggests the state's budget problems could hold up regulation.

"Maybe we do need to talk about possibly regulating it, but the problem is, right now, as it exists, we can create legislation and pass it, but with the budget cuts, who's going to go out and oversee it?

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) has requested more information from the Department of Human Services and the state's financial and professional regulation department, and is investigating the practices of neighboring states.

“If someone holds themselves out as a group home or a community home…people probably make some assumption that there is going to be some level of professional oversight,” Harris, a member of the House’s health care licenses committee, says. “There may be a gap here that potentially we’re missing.”





Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.