Illinois AG Calling for Crackdown on Nursing Homes

October 9, 2009

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is calling for unannounced inspections of nursing homes and revised criminal histories of identified offenders living in the facilities.

Madigan’s sent a letter on Oct. 7 to the state’s public health director, a day before a new task force was scheduled to meet to address assaults, rapes and murders in the state’s nursing homes.

An Associated Press analysis found Illinois ranks highest in the nation in the number of mentally ill adults under age 65 living in nursing homes. The Chicago Tribune recently examined how violent convicted felons living in nursing homes put frail elderly at risk.

Both news organizations cited instances of assaults – including murder – of nursing home residents by residents with mental illness and histories of violence.

Madigan’s four-page letter to Dr. Damon Arnold, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, faults the department for “unwillingness … to recognize the vital role it plays in protecting the residents of facilities across Illinois.”

Health department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold sent an e-mailed response to Madigan’s letter to the AP.

The department supports “stricter laws and resources to aid in better regulating the long-term care system, and will continue to work with all state agencies and the Nursing Home Safety Task Force,” the spokeswoman’s statement said.

“Since becoming the director of IDPH in October 2007, Dr. Damon Arnold has stressed the importance of protecting the health and safety of every person in Illinois and will continue toward that end,” the statement said.

Wendy Meltzer of the advocacy group Illinois Citizens for Better Care said she hopes task force members will solve problems in the system rather than make excuses.

“I hope it’s not going to be people saying, ‘It’s not my problem. It’s not my fault,”‘ Meltzer said. “The issue should be, how do we fix this?”

The Tribune’s series revealed a pattern of problems with background checks of residents. The checks often failed to uncover convicted felons’ violent crimes.

Madigan’s letter said the public health department should request help from the Illinois State Police to prepare revised criminal histories for every identified offender living in a state long-term care facility.

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