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State Rep. Fights For Reforms At Group Homes

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State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Ill.)

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Ill.) (Credit: CBS)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) – The deaths of two residents of a downstate Charleston group home in recent years have state lawmakers jumping into action.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Dave Dahl reports, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Ill.) wants to put homes such as the Graywood Foundation, where the deadly incidents occurred, under a major microscope – especially when there are instances of abuse.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Dave Dahl reports

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini reported last month that Paul McCann, 42, who functioned at the level of a 6-year-old, was punched, kicked, and struck with a frying pan inside his group home for reportedly taking a cookie.

“Paul was a wonderful child that did not deserve to be beaten to death because he took a cookie without permission,” Harris said, “and 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.”

dhs victim State Rep. Fights For Reforms At Group Homes

Paul McCann died while under the care of a state contractor. (CBS)

McCann’s mother, Lois McCann, took care of her son as long as she could in her Joliet home. Then she put her trust in the Graywood Foundation, a state-licensed group home in downstate Charleston. Two staff members from the facility have been charged in the brutal beating that led to his death.

McCann was not the only victim at Graywood Foundation. State records obtained by CBS 2, which date back to 2003, reveal 33 cases of Graywood staff abusing residents. Those cases included sexual abuse, physical battery and alleged coercion of residents to attack each other.

Even worse, in 2008, a resident named Dustin Higgins was murdered by staff. That death prompted an internal memo from the Illinois Department of Human Services Inspector General. The memo warned that Graywood residents were at risk amid an increase of serious allegations of abuse and neglect.

But state records revealed regulators knew Graywood’s substantiated abuse rate was double the state average, yet the state Department of Human Services failed to close it down.

The legislation Harris is sponsoring would require the Department of Human Services to review possible license and funding revocation for group homes where disproportionate cases of abuse or neglect occur.

The legislation would also require independent monitoring where systemic risk of abuse and neglect is suspected.

Harris says if Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill, HB 653, it will be called “Paul’s Law.”

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