Week in Review: Choate, credit rating, jobs and more


Republicans demand hearings on Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center, propose a plan to make improvements. House and Senate Republican legislators held a Capitol news conference Thursday to call for immediate joint House and Senate hearings to investigate disturbing reports of abuse and neglect of the residents of Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center. 

State Representatives Paul Jacobs, Charlie Meier, Norine Hammond, and Dave Severin, along with State Senators Terri Bryant, Dale Fowler, and Jil Tracy called for public hearings to discuss the serious concerns regarding disturbing reports of neglect and abuse of the residents at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center located in southern Illinois. In addition to their request for public hearings, the legislators discussed their plan called ‘Help Protect Us and Improve Our Home’ which offered eleven changes needed to make improvements at Choate.

The press conference was held after all members of the Illinois House and Senate Republican caucuses signed on to a letter that was sent to the Chairpersons of the Committees charged with oversight of the Illinois Department of Human Services requesting the hearings and following news reports that have quoted Governor Pritzker threatening to close down the facility if changes and improvements aren’t made.

“We’ve got an opportunity to implement a plan to help the residents and employees at Choate to once again make it a safe, healthy and respectable facility. But we must start by bringing in officials from Choate and from the Department of Human Services and gathering members of the relevant House and Senate Committees so we can have our questions answered about past abuses and ongoing problems at the center,” Jacobs said. “It is the proper role of the legislature to investigate and offer oversight and solutions into matters that are this important.”

A portion of the letter sent by all members of the House and Senate Republican Caucuses reads:

It is our sincere hope that as the chairpersons of the House and Senate Committees charged with the duty of overseeing the operations of and funding for the State of Illinois’ various mental health facilities, you would act with urgency in cooperation with us to get to the bottom of, and eventually solve, the many problems at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center. It is vital that we address these issues immediately so that this critical facility can continue to serve the 270 residents who depend on it. This is their home. We cannot displace these vulnerable individuals because, for many of them, this is their last resort. The state of Illinois has a duty to them. They deserve better, their families deserve better, and the staff that serves them deserve better.

“Governor Pritzker has only recently made threats to close down Choate,” Jacobs said. “I want the Governor to know that I share his frustration and stand ready to work collaboratively to fix these issues and keep Choate open. We can and will not accept a policy that gives up, a policy that throws our hands in the air in disgust and says nothing can be done. And I will fight every attempt to close down a facility that means so much to the residents of Choate and their families.”

According to State Rep. Charlie Meier, “The ‘Help Protect Us and Improve Our Home’ proposal is a realistic plan to help make the improvements needed at Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center. A place residents call their home. I am more than willing to work with DHS and the elected officials to help foster a safe, loving, and healthy home where they can happily live fulfilling lives.”

In a report published by ProPublica on February 10, 2023, lawmakers learned that multiple investigations by the Inspector General designated to oversee the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) revealed serious and unacceptable incidents of neglect and abuse and a culture of intimidation and retaliation against whistleblowers. Choate has been the subject of more than 1,500 complaints to DHS over the last decade.

The Republicans unveiled an 11-point proposal they say could begin to fix issues at Choate right away. The plan includes:
  • Install cameras in common areas
  • Implement ongoing staff training
  • A mass hiring of qualified staff to help
  • Track staff incidents by location and trends
  • Increase administrative and security inspections
  • Improve overall accountability of staff performance
  • Remind employees if they see something is wrong, report it
  • Increase the amount of active treatment and activities for residents
  • Encourage and welcome parents/guardians visiting their loved ones
  • Assign an interim director or assistant director to Choate Developmental Center
  • Reevaluate the Office of Inspector General reporting system as it currently operates

Illinois’ credit rating upgraded from worst to tied for worst. Illinois’ credit rating got upgraded from worst in the country to tying with New Jersey for the worst.

For a seventh time in two years, Illinois’ credit rating was increased Thursday with the announcement from S&P Global ratings.

"The upgrade on the [general obligation] debt reflects our view that Illinois' commitment and execution to strengthen its budgetary flexibility and stability, supported by accelerating repayment of its liabilities, rebuilding its budget stabilization fund to decade highs; and a slowing of statutory pension funding growth, will likely continue during the outlook period," S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Geoff Buswick said.

Illinois’ outstanding $27.7 billion GO bonds were upgraded from BBB+, the worst in the country, to A-, tied with New Jersey GO bond ratings. The last time Illinois had the A- rating was in December 2015.

The state’s appropriation-backed debt saw an increase Thursday from BBB to BBB+ and moral obligation debt from B+ to BBB-. Build Illinois bonds, paid for with gas tax and other fee increases, goes from A- to A.

Illinois’ credit upgrade cannot fully make up for the effect of rising global interest rates. Illinois taxpayers will continue to pay higher interest rates in 2023 on the State’s outstanding multi-billion-dollar debt load than was paid in 2022 and previous years.

The credit rating enhancement reflects Illinois’ hard work at recovering from the debt crisis created by political dysfunction and the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown orders. The advocacy and outreach of the House Republican Caucus were significant in getting the State of Illinois to pay back a large debt chunk, money owed by the once-insolvent Illinois Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund. S&P credited Illinois’ increased liquidity, and its “deep and diverse” private-sector economic base, for the credit rating move. At the same time, however, S&P continued to point to Illinois’ continued significant burden of unfunded pension liabilities.

Illinois State Lottery reports results for the first half of FY23. The Illinois State Lottery reported record sales of $1.8 billion, with a net revenue intake of $468 million, in the six-month period. Sales were paced by a succession of multistate jackpot games that rolled over into super-sized prizes. One of the $1 billion-plus ticket winners, awarded in July 2022, was a ticket sold in Des Plaines, Illinois. In addition to this mammoth ticket, other Illinois Lottery players collected almost $1.2 billion in prizes during the six-month period. The reporting period began on July 1, 2022, just before the Des Plaines jackpot, and ended on December 31, 2022. Net proceeds from Illinois Lottery ticket sales, other than specialty scratch-off tickets to benefit specific causes, are deposited in the Common School Fund to benefit Illinois public education.
Abrupt shutdown at Decatur’s Akorn Pharmaceuticals results in the loss of more than 400 jobs. More than 400 people who work at Akorn Pharmaceuticals in Decatur were told Wednesday they are losing their jobs this week. The company announced it is filing for bankruptcy and closing all U.S. operations.

Published reports indicate the company's CEO Douglas Boothe made a surprise announcement in a video to employees. According to those who viewed it, Boothe indicated the company was no longer able to secure financing and will file Chapter 7 bankruptcy this week.

It went on to say employees will be paid through Thursday and for all accrued vacation time.

The shutdown and Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing was a harsh end to the employment of hundreds of biochemical technicians and production workers at Akorn’s Decatur plant.

Prior to the shutdown, Akron Pharmaceuticals manufactured consumer health and animal health products with nationwide scope. Founded in 1971, Akorn specialized in the manufacture of generic pharmaceutical products that can be manufactured off-patent. At the height of its corporate existence, the firm had publicly traded stock on the NASDAQ equity market and was a component of the NASDAQ Biotechnology Index.

However, starting in 2020, Akorn began to face serious financial challenges. The company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2020. The firm offered itself for sale, but announced on Wednesday, February 22 that it had received no bids. Akorn’s shutdown was effective immediately.

Gov. Pritzker elevates the status of Illinois’ chief anti-terrorism agency. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) will now be known as the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security. The reorganization means that the fight against terrorism in Illinois will now be headed by a person who will be a Deputy Director, a senior law enforcement official. The Homeland Security Advisor will coordinate with cabinet-level public safety agencies throughout Illinois on terrorism-related strategic issues, including cybercrime and electronic sabotage. The change also elevates the current Illinois Terrorism task Force to the level of a permanent board of advisors, the Illinois Homeland Security Advisory Council. The change will better situate IEMA to apply for and pass through federal grants to local law enforcement and the private sector aimed at the reduction and prevention of terrorism and sabotage.

The state government reorganization move was filed on Tuesday, February 21, as Executive Order 2023-03. The Illinois Constitution grants broad powers to the Governor to reconfigure State government agencies. The reconfigurations have to maintain the sets of State government responsibilities previously created by the General Assembly through State law. In this case, the General Assembly has already asked IEMA to fight against terrorism and sabotage, and this executive order continues this General Assembly policy.