Illinois Nursing Home Problems Lead to State Senate Hearings

State Senators in Illinois are preparing to hold hearings on how to fix a growing nursing home problem in the state, where elderly and disabled residents have been attacked by younger, mentally ill residents in the same facility.

A recent series of stories by the Chicago Tribune into the high number of assaults, rapes and murders inflicted on Illinois nursing home residents has sent local and state officials scrambling for answers and solutions. The Senate human services and public health committees have scheduled a joint hearing in Chicago for November 5, to discuss the problem and possible legislation to address it.

The Senate hearings come after Illinois Governor Pat Quinn formed a Nursing Home Safety Task Force, which held the first of six proposed meetings last Thursday regarding the same issues. The next meeting is scheduled for October 20, when the task force will take public comment.

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The Tribune series revealed that Illinois nursing homes have been lax in doing background checks on younger criminals placed in the homes due to psychiatric problems. The mix of younger, mentally ill criminals in close quarters with the elderly and disabled, coupled with staff that may not be prepared to handle the situation, has led to an alarming number of murders, assaults and rapes.

The newspaper uncovered a number of disturbing incidents involving younger convicted felons attacking elderly residents with whom they had been housed. In May 2008, Ivory Jackson, a Chicago nursing home resident, was beaten into a coma by his younger roommate. Jackson died of his injuries. Also last year, a 69-year-old resident was raped in her room by Christopher Sheldon, a mentally ill convicted felon in his 20s who had been removed from the facility once before for assault charges, and had a warrant out for his arrest, of which nursing home staff was unaware.

Although the rape victim was found crying in her room and Sheldon was hiding in the closet, the nursing home originally categorized the incident as consensual sex.

Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general, estimates that there are currently 3,000 known felons living in nursing homes across the state. Madigan is calling for unannounced nursing home inspections and the development of a database of detailed criminal histories for felons in nursing homes.


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