Oversight of publicly funded care for more than 6,000 Illinoisans with developmental disabilities in group homes and other settings will be reduced and disrupted, putting clients’ physical and emotional health at risk, if a new system expanding service regions on July 1 isn’t blocked.
That’s the argument made by a Lincoln-based not-for-profit organization and two other nonprofits known as “independent service coordination” agencies that have filed a lawsuit in Springfield's U.S. District Court requesting a preliminary injunction against the Illinois Department of Human Services.
The new oversight system is a “recipe for disaster in many areas of the state,” including the Peoria area, said Mary McGlauchlen, executive director of Central Illinois Service Access in Lincoln.
Approximately 6,500 clients served by CISA, Western Illinois Service Coordination in Macomb and DayOnePact in the Chicago suburbs of Lisle and Geneva stand to lose caseworkers familiar with their needs and receive less monitoring, she said.
“This is a long-term relationship that we have with clients,” McGlauchlen said. “A lot of these individuals don’t have the cognitive ability to report abuse or neglect.”
CISA has served the Peoria area for 25 years, and many families depend on the agency to help them negotiate a very opaque system when they try to advocate for their loved ones. Metamora resident Barbie Perry was devastated when she found out early this year that CISA would no longer be serving her adult daughter living in a group home in Peoria.
“Advocacy is really hard in that you really have to dig. Right now I’m trying to find out who is going to be our new service provider — they are there to protect my child and I don’t even know who these people are,” she said shortly after learning about the change in January.
According to McGlauchlen, organizations operating group homes often deal with staff turnover and inadequate funding from the state, making it even more important for caseworkers from outside agencies such as CISA to provide “another set of eyes and ears looking out for clients’ best interests.”
It’s unclear whether the state will continue the longtime practice of giving clients and their families the choice of retaining their longtime caseworkers even if those caseworkers would be based in another service territory, McGlauchlen said.
A court hearing hasn’t been scheduled on an injunction that potentially would preserve the status quo for clients and the nonprofits providing oversight while the merits of the case are debated in court.
Asked to comment on the lawsuit, DHS spokeswoman Meghan Powers said in an email: “Our main priority at IDHS is to serve individuals with disabilities safely and effectively. The Division of Developmental Disabilities has been discussing and working with the Independent Service Coordination agencies and other stakeholders on this competitive solicitation process since 2016 and, following the grant awards, meeting weekly since early March regarding the regions with changes in providers, with a separate team dedicated to each affected region.”
Powers said Human Services is “committed to ensuring a smooth transition for families and the people we serve.”
The new system, upending decades of past practice, is on track to reduce the number of service regions from 17 to 12 and the number of contracting independent service coordination agencies from 17 to eight.
The lawsuit contends the new system of case management and coordination services for Medicaid recipients violates federal law governing people in group homes operated by nonprofit and for-profit providers.
The state illegally prevented clients from “receiving services from the qualified, willing provider of their choice,” the suit says.
The suit also contends that DHS violated state law by not going through the formal state “rulemaking process.”
McGlauchlen said the state claimed that the new bidding process was a way to create more logical service territories, reallocate funds and ensure compliance with new, governmental contracting requirements.
The bidding process initiated last year under Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration and being carried out by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker will mean that WISC and DayOne no longer will be able to do work they had performed for about 30 years.
CISA, which also served clients for three decades, did win a contract, but its nine-county area is changing to 17 counties.
The Springfield-area counties of Sangamon, Menard, Christian and Logan remain in CISA’s new territory, where about 640 clients receive services. CISA is adding many counties south and west of Sangamon, including Montgomery, Macoupin, Morgan and Cass.
McGlauchlen said she is trying to hire caseworkers from other agencies who serve clients in the counties in her new service territory. But 15 to 20 CISA caseworkers serving the current service territory are on track to lose their jobs, she said.
Peoria County, which had been in CISA’s territory for decades, will be served by Decatur-based Prairieland Service Coordination, while the counties of Woodford, Tazewell, Mason and McLean will be served by the Urbana-based Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
About 760 clients in those Peoria-area counties, including 382 in Peoria County, will receive oversight services from new providers, McGlauchlen said.
Instead of being served by Macomb-based WISC, the counties of Fulton, Stark, Knox, Warren and McDonough will be served by Prairieland.
McGlauchlen said CISA receives $2.3 million annually for serving clients in its current nine-county region. She said she doesn't know whether the new contract with reduce or increase CISA’s funding from the state.
Unless derailed by court or legislative action, the new system will result in clients in 48 counties — including those in the Rockford area — losing oversight services from their longtime independent service coordination agencies, according to Ed McManus, a Wilmette-based consultant for nonprofit and for-profit providers.
Some nonprofits that provided oversight are going out of business after they were denied contracts or decided not to bid because they didn’t want to serve larger territories, McManus said.
Others, such as CISA, WISC and DayOne, aren’t giving up on preserving the continuity of care for clients, he said.
The state’s bidding and contracting process has faced widespread criticism from independent service coordination agencies and providers of group-home services and other services for people with disabilities, he said.
“The whole thing was done very poorly,” McManus said. “I’m delighted that they’re fighting back.”
Mary Fran Nordstrom, whose developmentally disabled adult son lives in a group home in Peoria, supports the lawsuit.
“It’s time somebody took a good hard look at how the state is approaching this,” she said. “It’s typical of the state. They decide they want to do something and they just ram it down people's throats."
Thought Nordstrom and her family is taking a wait-and-see approach to Prairieland she said many Peoria-area residents “feel very strongly about staying with the people serving them. CISA is a very good agency, and Mary McGlauchlen is a very good person.”
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