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Report: Patient Was Given Toxic Level Of Medication

Lavonte Rayford
Family Photo
Lavonte Rayford received inadequate medical treatment during his two weeks at Chester Mental Health Center, said the report released May 26

A Bloomington man received toxic levels of medication during his 2019 stay at a state mental health center, according to recent findings by the Regional Human Rights Authority, based on the agency’s investigation into allegations of abuse.

Lavonte Rayford received inadequate medical treatment during his two weeks at Chester Mental Health Center, said the report released May 26, after staff increased his seizure medication to levels a physician later found to be toxic. Rayford, who has epilepsy and is a survivor of serious burns and injuries he suffered in a car accident as a child, was sent to Chester from the McLean County jail.

The probe into Rayford’s time at the southern Illinois facility came after he reported accusations of physical abuse by staff within the first few minutes of his arrival at the mental health center. The complaint was filed with the Human Rights Authority (HRA) of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission.

According to Rayford, staff placed him in a choke hold when he did not immediately comply with a request to remove a towel he wears to cover burn scars on his head.

Rayford, 25, said he removed the towel, but workers “lined up in front of me and one of them wrapped an arm around my neck and picked me up by the neck after I told them, ‘I give up.’ I told them, ‘Please, my neck hurts so bad,’” Rayford said in a recent interview with WGLT.

The severe pain kept Rayford from being able to swallow, and medical care to the address the injury is ongoing, he said.

A security video that may have confirmed the opinion of Chester’s security chief that staff acted appropriately is no longer available.

“There was no video to review due to technical difficulties with the hard drive crashing,” noted the report. Staff provided first aid to Rayford after the incident, but a medical report of an examination noted no redness or swelling, said the HRA decision.

Calling the situation with the hard drive “very suspicious,” Rayford said he is disappointed the video is unavailable for an independent review.

LaTasha Rayford, Lavonte’s mother and legal guardian, recalled her first visit with her son after his tussle with staff.

“It was like I was seeing a ghost of my son,” she said.

The allegations of physical abuse were unsubstantiated by the HRA, but several “suggestions,” were offered, including additional training on the code of conduct for the facility. Staff should “be reminded that all patients, employees and visitors should be treated with dignity, respect and courtesy especially during intake process when an individual might have trouble adjusting to new rules and a new environment,” the HRA concluded.

The substantiated finding that Rayford was given dangerously high doses of dilantin, a seizure control medication, resulted in four recommendations. Increased oversight of medications to ensure patients are receiving the proper dosage, and monitoring of lab work to determine medication levels were among the recommendations.

In Rayford’s case, the HRA noted one possible side effect of the medication overdose is a difficulty with swallowing, a factor the agency considered in its review of the abuse accusation.

LaTasha Rayford has asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office to review the allegations of abuse involving Chester.

“What happened to my son from the moment he was put on medications on March 17, 2017, until he got out of jail should never, ever happen to anyone. Everyone — the doctor, the jail, the forensic psychologist, the judge — failed him,” she said.

The dangerously high level of seizure medication was discovered by Rayford’s private physician after he was released from jail, according to LaTasha Rayford.

The Illinois Department of Human Services did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling involving the Chester Mental Health Center.

Rayford’s trip to the state’s high-security mental health center followed multiple arrests for aggravated battery of nurses while he was receiving treatment for seizures at Carle BroMenn Medical Center. Those charges and a case accusing him of throwing a liquid on a correctional officer at the jail were later dismissed by the state.

While in jail, Rayford received a mental health evaluation by a forensic psychologist who deemed him mentally fit to stand trial. Before the opinion was submitted to the court, however, a judge ordered Rayford’s transfer to Chester for treatment. A second evaluation also found Rayford fit to stand trial.

Rayford contends his outbursts were tied to his reaction to improper medication he received for his seizures. While Rayford has a long history of medical care because of the car accident that killed his brother, he has no history of mental health issues.

In September 2020, the HRA found Rayford’s rights were violated at the county jail after staff failed to provide adequate medical care for his epilepsy. The county disagreed with the commission’s findings, but confirmed staff training was completed on issues cited in the report.

Edith Brady-Lunny was a correspondent at WGLT, joining the station in 2019. She left the station in 2024.