A Chicago care facility where a high number of disabled children have died in recent years said it has taken numerous steps to improve care, including replacing the top administrator, hiring more staff and retraining employees.
"We're looking at everything critically," said Bob Molitor, chief operating officer of the Alden nursing home chain, which oversees Alden Village North on North Sheridan Road. "Are we weak in that area? If we are, we want to boost that up."
Alden Village North has been under fire since October, when a Tribune investigation documented a 10-year pattern of violations and deaths at the facility, which cares for about 90 children and adults with severe physical and mental disabilities.
Some advocates welcomed the changes as long overdue.
"This is sort of what you would do in a situation when things aren't just problematic, but problematic down to the core," said Zena Naiditch, president of the Chicago-based watchdog group Equip for Equality. "It suggests they recognize on some level that to try to turn this place around, you're not starting over, but you're getting pretty close to it."
In his first interview about the troubled facility, Alden owner Floyd Schlossberg said the home is improving and that he disagreed with suggestions made by some relatives of residents who have died there that he does not care about what happens in his homes.
"Don't ever say this about this owner or anyone else in this company," the 72-year-old longtime nursing home operator said. "We care for everything that happens in all of the facilities. No one in this world wants to see someone pass on."
The Tribune found that 13 children and young adults have died at the facility since 2000 in cases that resulted in state citations for neglect or for failure to investigate thoroughly. Seven of those deaths occurred after January 2008, when Alden took over the facility. At least 11 additional residents have died since 2008, though those cases did not result in citations.
Schlossberg said he was "deeply hurt" by the Tribune's articles because they "don't really portray us the way we really are. … We're a sincere company interested in providing quality services for the frail, elderly and pediatric population."
When Schlossberg was asked whether he would have his staff re-examine the circumstances for all deaths that have occurred at the home since he became operator, his lawyer stepped in to say Schlossberg would not answer. But Schlossberg then said he would discuss the matter with his colleagues and decide later.
In response to the Tribune articles, Gov. Pat Quinn placed a state monitor in the facility, and federally backed Equip for Equality started an investigation into numerous deaths at the home. In a rare move, state child-welfare authorities pulled two residents from Alden Village North and four from another Schlossberg home, Alden Village Health Facility in suburban Bloomingdale, because of concerns over care.
Schlossberg would not comment on authorities' removal of children from his facilities, other than to say, "I think we took really good care of them."
Although Schlossberg said "there are no major problems going on" at Alden Village North, he and Molitor detailed a variety of changes that have occurred in recent weeks.
They would not say whether they had fired the previous administrator. She could not be reached for comment, but her mother told the Tribune her daughter had been fired about three weeks ago, right after returning from her honeymoon.
Molitor said Alden Village North has hired several more staffers and created a "nursing liaison" position to handle any complaints from schools and day training centers. New procedures, he said, also ensure children go to school clean.
"There isn't anyone from that facility who isn't looked at head to toe," he said.
The Tribune reported that teachers over the years have complained that the facility sent some children to school in tattered clothing, soiled diapers and filthy wheelchairs.
The newspaper also reported how the state repeatedly has cited the facility with not providing enough activities or outings for some residents. Molitor said Alden has stepped up activities, including trips to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. Schlossberg also said the facility began renovations last year that will offer more program and living space for residents.
Bob Hedges, president of the Illinois Health Care Association, a lobbying group for nursing home operators, said Schlossberg clearly wants to improve the facility.
"You don't make those kinds of changes unless you recognize there are some issues," he said.
Amber Smock, of Access Living, a Chicago advocacy group that helped stage a protest at Alden corporate headquarters on West Peterson Avenue last month, said the changes are a step in the right direction, but she said her group still wants Alden Village North closed and children with disabilities moved into more home-based settings.
Naiditch of Equip for Equality said changes must be lasting if they are to make a difference.
"The key will be in six months, when the limelight is taken off this facility," she said. "If one of these deaths were to occur at that time, would the staff handle it differently?"Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times