Illinois Didn’t Investigate Most Hospital Complaints

November 8, 2011

The Illinois Department of Public Health didn’t investigate 85 percent of the 560 hospital complaints it received last year even when the complaints alleged patient abuse and lax infection control, according to a published report Sunday.

The Chicago Tribune reported that some allegations of serious harm or death weren’t investigated even though federal law requires reviews of such claims within 48 hours. The newspaper cited thousands of state records.

The complaints that weren’t investigated included one from a patient at Harrisburg Medical Center who said nurses and doctors didn’t wear protective gowns or gloves while a bacterial infection that had killed one person spread through the hospital. Another patient at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital reported being pricked by dirty needles, which prompted preventive treatment for HIV, the newspaper reported.

Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the state health department, said the agency works to address serious allegations. But she said the department “does not have the funding needed to investigate complaints, to conduct routine hospital surveys and ensure the health and safety of patients,” according to the newspaper.

Illinois spent nearly $500,000 on hospital oversight last year with half the money coming from the federal government.

The issue of complaints not being investigated has drawn criticism from consumer groups.

“These are serious complaints,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of the national Consumers Union Safe Patient Project. “If the regulatory system is collecting these complaints and not responding, that is a massive failure of oversight.”

State officials have supported charging hospitals a fee for inspections, like other health care facilities in Illinois. But the Illinois Hospital Association has objected, saying imposing more fees when there are cuts in Medicare and Medicaid payments would be unfair.

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