Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
This is another in a series on people and events that shaped our communities in 2010.
ELGIN — In many ways, 2010 was characterized by disappointment.
The economy continued to slump. Foreclosure rates continued to rise. Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow, though, was the never-ending string of headlines highlighting how those in the public’s trust were accused of misusing their power.
Coroners, police officers, teachers, coaches, priests and even governors were charged this year with crimes that violated the faith citizens placed in them.
Some of the most shocking news to come out of Elgin was word that the Bowes Retirement Center on North Gifford Street would be shut down under pressure from an investigation by the Illinois Department of Public Health and an impending mortgage foreclosure. The owners of Bowes were accused, among other things, of neglecting the elderly and disabled in their care to the point of abuse.
Fueled by complaints from concerned neighbors and mounting police reports, a team of police officers, senior services agents, and personnel from the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Attorney General’s office determined that although Bowes was advertising living quarters for independent adults, several residents there needed much more assistance.
That included assistance to bathe, eat, take medications and move — services that state law says can be provided only by a licensed nursing facility. And to that end, those services were not being provided adequately, investigators said.
The state’s 2009 injunction and police reports told the story of a place where bed-ridden residents were left in their own feces, bugs crawled the floors and walls, moldy food and fire code violations abounded and on some days there was no food inside Bowes at all. Untrained employees were giving out medications and on at least one occasion, the only employee on duty was a teenage girl, reports said.
While conditions inside Bowes made the community shudder, there was one man who helped revive Elgin’s faith in humanity and those employed in the public’s trust: Elgin police Officer Eric Echevarria.
Those investigating the now-closed Retirement Center unanimously pointed to him as the one who spearheaded efforts to shut down the facility at 105 N. Gifford St.
As one of five Elgin police officers involved in the city’s Resident Officer Program of Elgin (ROPE), Echevarria works and lives in one of Elgin’s distressed neighborhoods, providing not only police service but a role model for his neighbors. Echevarria is supposed to be — as are all ROPE officers — an example of how to problem-solve, improve the quality of life and take ownership of a community.
It takes a special person to be a successful ROPE officer — dedication, passion and an ability to handle being on call and watched by others 24-7. And Echevarria is a perfect example of that, say those who know him.
An Elgin native and former U.S. Marine, Echevarria moved into the city-owned ROPE house at 326 E. Chicago St. in November 2008. Shortly after, he began to notice complaints of loud music and parties coming from Bowes, located just two blocks away.
“Then I got prostitution complaints coming to me and complaints of people squealing tires,” he said.
Hearing these types of reports is not uncommon for an Elgin police officer. However, when the reports refer to a retirement center advertising “elegant ambiance” that is “reminiscent of a Bed-and-Breakfast,” something is wrong, Echevarria said.
As complaints became more frequent, Echevarria went to speak to the managers at Bowes, and began documenting the conditions inside the facility. Soon he began to work with Cherie Aschenbrenner, the police department’s elderly service officer; the city’s health, fire and code departments; and the nonprofit Senior Services Associates of Elgin.
Later, he pushed to bring in the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois Attorney General’s office.
Power for good
By Oct. 1, Bowes was shuttered and all of its 26 residents had new places to go. However, the last resident — a woman who had lived at Bowes for several years — was reluctant to leave. She did not have a safe place, she felt, for all of her belongings once she left Bowes.
Living up to his commitment to be a dedicated and involved community member, Echevarria called Terri Santiago, general manager of Titan Self Storage on McLean Boulevard in Elgin. Santiago donated a storage unit for the woman and with the help of a neighbor and her big conversion van, Echevarria moved the final Bowes resident out of the facility.
Echevarria’s commitment to using his power to better the lives of those around him served as a beacon of hope for many in a year peppered with disappointment in our public officials.
Working as a ROPE officer requires patience, “but it’s worth it,” Echevarria said. “It sometimes can take years to see the results of hard work, such as with Bowes, but it’s worth it.”