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This past Thursday, May 5, the Secretary for the Illinois Department of Human Services, James Dimas, and the Director of the Department of Public Health, Dr. Nirav Shah, visited Misericordia and took a tour.

 This was a very important visit because the Departments of Human Services and Public Health are two of the agencies that regulate Misericordia. Sec. Dimas had never been to Misericordia and Dr. Shah had not been to Miz since his student days seventeen years ago. Both men were appointed to their positions by Gov. Rauner and have been in office a little over a year. This was our opportunity to introduce them to Misericordia. The visit was arranged by Miz’s good friend and board member Phil O’Connor.

We were told that Sec. Dimas and Dr. Shah had only an hour and a half. We wanted to reserve a half hour after the tour to meet with them and discuss the significant issues facing Misericordia. As those of you who have taken a tour know, showing Misericordia in an hour is a real challenge. The executive team met in advance of the tour to decide what were the most important parts of Misericordia to include. Everyone had their favorite programs and facilities. It was hard to cut anything, so we ended up with quite an ambitious itinerary. Kevin led the tour starting with McAuley. McAuley never ceases to amaze those who visit because of the tender loving care that these most fragile residents receive and the state of the art facilities that McAuley has. We next visited one of the new Quinlan homes and explained the adaptations staff has employed to better serve our residents with dementia. Chris Krackenberger explained to Dr. Shah some things we have learned in caring for individuals with dementia that even Dr. Shah, with his medical training, did not know. Chris also showed Sec. Dimas and Dr. Shah the Moore Aquatic & Fitness Center. We explained the importance of the campus for our family members living in Miz’s off-campus CILAs.

We toured the Kelly/Conway Developmental Training Center and showed how Misericordia uses technology to teach our family members new skills and get them prepared for potential employment. That led nicely to showing them the bakery and our coffee production. We explained the importance of these work opportunities in teaching residents the skills needed to obtain off-campus jobs. Sec. Dimas was particularly impressed with these work programs. He explained that he had seen other work programs for individuals with developmental disabilities, what are referred to as sheltered workshops, and found them to be very depressing. He said that Miz’s programs were clearly far more humane and appropriate. This allowed us to explain the importance of being able to continue to offer on-campus work opportunities and to use the specialized minimum wage authorized by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The tour finished at the Art Department. As always, our visitors were impressed with the artistic skills of our residents. Dr. Shah said that he would be sure to attend our Artist in All event on May 25.

Despite our best efforts, the tour took well over an hour. Sec. Dimas and Dr. Shah took the time to engage with our residents at every stop and they asked very insightful questions. After the tour, we gave them a coffee break in the Greenhouse Inn and provided them with ample samples from our bakery. This also gave us the opportunity to ask for their impressions of Misericordia and to discuss our continuum of care legislation. Both men said that they were very impressed with Misericordia and affirmed that it is a very viable model for serving individuals with developmental disabilities. They said that they did not view Miz as an “institution.” Sec. Dimas observed how involved our families are with Misericordia and that families are the most important part of a community. Both men also observed how many members of the community come to our campus either to volunteer or to visit the Greenhouse Inn. Both officials also spoke in support of the continuum of care legislation. Sec. Dimas indicated that he and his staff did have some concerns that if other providers qualified for this special license he would want to make sure that the provider regularly reviewed its residents’ placements to make sure the residents were in the facilities and programs that best meet their needs. We told him that Miz does regularly review the appropriateness of each resident’s programs and that we are willing to work with him and his agency to address any concerns he may have. Sec. Dimas and Dr. Shah were very generous with their time, staying well over two hours.

This visit and tour once again drove home the importance of having all of our government officials visit Misericordia. Sec. Dimas and Dr. Shah came to Misericordia knowing very little about us. After two hours, they left as friends and supporters.