CW: Abuse, Neglect, Restraint, & Seclusion
At the southern Illinois Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center, Blaine Reichard was told to pull up his sagging pants by a staff member as he stood from a breakfast table.
Being told what to do by staff members at the state-run residential institution was nothing new for 24-year-old Reichard, who has developmental disabilities. However, this time he disobeyed.
According to a 700-page state police investigation obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, many witnesses informed the Illinois State Police that immediately after this discussion, Reichard was brought to the floor, restrained by four mental health technicians, and repeatedly hit in the face.
Reichard’s injuries were the worst they had ever seen, according to numerous workers, including a doctor who spoke to investigators. At the sight of his injured face, one tech reportedly threw up, according to authorities.
One of the workers yelled for restraints while Reichard continued to be beaten. Reichard was brought inside his room. From there, he was restrained to his bed by black nylon straps around his ankles, wrists, and chest.
Choate provides care for those in the state who have the most severe disabilities. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice reprimanded Choate in 2009 for failing to safeguard residents against abuse on a physical and psychological level as well as other harm. The federal government concluded its inquiry in 2013 and refrained from suing the state of Illinois, as it had done with other states, noting in a report to Congress that Illinois officials had made sufficient adjustments.
The state police conducted at least 40 criminal investigations into alleged employee misconduct at Choate over a ten-year period ending in 2021, more than at any other IDHS facility in Southern Illinois.
Sadly, abuse like Reichard experienced isn’t uncommon in facilities for the developmentally disabled. Nationwide, there are numerous stories about people being abused in state-run facilities. As someone with Cerebral Palsy, stories of abuse are very frightening to me. I have never been abused or neglected by a caregiver, but I have been in scary situations. I was thankful that I was able to call for help when I needed to. I can’t imagine how scary it would’ve been if I were nonverbal or unable to use a telephone.
The Judge Rotenberg Center, is located in Massachusetts. It remains the only school, hospital, or residential facility in the United States that is permitted to utilize electric shock as a therapy for its residential students with cognitive and emotional disabilities, as of August 2021
In New Jersey, Aidan Burke came to school in May with scabbed-over scratches on his chest, grayish bruises on his back, and a deep, strawberry-red abrasion line circling his neck. The 19-year-old young man with autism cannot speak, leaving the origin of his injuries a mystery. All Aidan’s mother knows is that he must have been injured at his Oaks Integrated Care group home in Sicklerville, Camden County, and she is determined to find out who is responsible.
Disabled people deserve to live free from abuse. Every time I read stories of abuse, my heart breaks. We should feel safe and cared for wherever we are living. Those charged with the care of some of the most vulnerable people should never abuse them.
Hundsdorfer, Beth, and Molly Parker. “A Disabled Young Patient Was Sent to Get Treatment. He Was Abused Instead. And He Wasn’t the Last.” ProPublica, ProPublica, 2 Sept. 2022, https://www.propublica.org/article/illinois-choate-mental-health-abuse-beatings?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=majorinvestigations&utm_content=river.
Livio, Susan K. “Abuse of Disabled People in N.J. Group Homes Persists as Accountability Lags, Watchdog Says.” NJ.com, Advance Publications, 25 May 2022, https://www.nj.com/news/2022/05/abuse-of-disabled-people-in-nj-group-homes-persists-as-accountability-lags-watchdog-says.html.
Young, Robin, and Serena McMahon. “Disability Advocates Fight Ruling Allowing Electric Shock Treatment Back in Mass.. Residential School.” Disability Advocates Fight Ruling Allowing Electric Shock Treatment Back In Mass. Residential School | Here & Now, WBUR, 12 Aug. 2021, https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/08/12/shock-treatment-school-disability.