Updated: September 3, 2013 7:06AM
The physical trauma that killed Paul McCann in January 2011 and the spiritual trauma that daunts his Joliet family reflect a sad reality about Illinois. Our rhetoric about protecting the defenseless falls far short of being true in practice, especially for the mentally ill.
Every year, Illinois closes mental health centers and provides insufficient funds for mental health resources, determining that other priorities are more important. When it comes to budget cutting in Illinois, the defenseless always suffer most.
This choice has been persistent for 30 years, and it has led too often to the mentally ill and developmentally disabled being herded into third-rate private facilities.
McCann, 42, had both developmental challenges and mental illness when he was beaten to death by two employees at a group home run by Graywood Foundation in downstate Charleston. The severe beating, supposedly as punishment for taking cookies from the kitchen without permission, cracked his ribs and punctured his lungs, and he hemorrhaged to death. The men are serving prison terms for the attack.
Why McCann died is no mystery, and neither is the impact on his death of the state mental health system’s disregard toward such patients. The state contributed indirectly to McCann’s fate because its view of mental health care these days demands cutting corners.
Between 2009 and 2012, Illinois cut roughly $180 million, or 32 percent, from its budget for treating the mentally ill. The state has more mentally ill people in private nursing homes than any other state. Such major cutbacks affect the quality of care in both state and private facilities, diminishing lives and dignity.
Unfortunately, while an extreme case, what happened to McCann was not rare. But his death hopefully will help make such abuse less likely to occur. His family successfully pushed the Legislature to pass Paul’s Law, which tightens restrictions on group homes and the people they hire.
McCann’s family memorialized him last week with a bench in a public park in Charleston, where he enjoyed going when his family visited him. The tragedy of his death is not only the abuse he endured, but that we endanger others like him and never know it.