In a rare move, Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday ordered a health monitor be placed at a troubled Chicago facility caring for children with severe developmental disabilities.
The governor also instructed his senior health policy adviser to immediately draft legislation to ensure the safety of residents at Alden Village North and similar facilities statewide.
"The administration takes the oversight of the state's care facilities very seriously," his office said in a statement. "Even one tragedy is intolerable."
The governor's action was sparked by Tribune stories Friday and Sunday that detailed Alden Village North's alarming history of violations and fatalities, and how state officials have done little about it. In all, 13 children and young adults have died at the facility since 2000 in cases that resulted in state citations for neglect or failure to adequately investigate.
The monitor will start making unannounced visits within the next several days, according to the governor's office and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The visits will occur at least three times a week, at different times of the day and last about four hours each.
"The monitor will be there as long as we feel they need to be, based on their reports, our surveys and if there are any outstanding deficiencies," department spokesman Tom Green said.
He said the monitor, who is often a nurse with experience in long-term care, will check staffing levels, investigate problems specific to the facility and observe how employees treat residents. After each visit, the monitor will submit a written report to the department. If violations are discovered, the monitor will notify the state, which can send an inspection team with the power to issue citations.
"This is a huge deal," said Zena Naiditch, president of Equip for Equality, a watchdog group for people with disabilities. "They would not be putting a monitor in if they did not think people were at risk."
Alden Village North, a for-profit facility at 7464 N. Sheridan Road, cares primarily for children and young adults with multiple physical and mental disabilities, including severe or profound cognitive impairment. The home has had three different owners and names in the past decade. It is now operated by Floyd A. Schlossberg, president of Chicago-based Alden Management Services.
His firm, which runs more than 20 nursing facilities in Illinois, said in a statement that it would cooperate with the state monitor and Quinn's office.
"As we have in the past, we will work with the Illinois Department of Public Health to continue to deliver superior care at Alden Village North as we have since we acquired the facility in 2008," the statement said. "The primary care, health and well-being of our residents is our number one priority and will continue to be."
Wendy Meltzer, a leading advocate for nursing home residents, said the use of monitors is uncommon, "and I've never heard of a governor ordering a monitor — anytime, anywhere."
Green said monitors are in two other Illinois facilities, but he couldn't immediately say which ones.
Brenda Wall, whose 21-year-old niece Kimberly Stewart has lived at Alden Village North since 2007, said a monitor would help hold facility staffers accountable.
"It's going to make them uncomfortable," she said. "It's good for them. They'll be on their toes."
While staffers might be on their best behavior in the presence of a monitor, Deborah Kennedy, Equip for Equality's director of abuse investigations, said the monitor will have access to records — "and they may tell an entirely different story."
Jon Musso, whose 11-year-old son has lived at the facility for most of his life, said Alden deserved the additional scrutiny and hoped the state follows through on any problems found.
"If the state is going to go there and check it out and then give them a violation, then they need to make sure they pay, and they need to make sure they change their practices," he said.
The Tribune reported that the state has levied $190,000 in fines against the facility since 2000 but that the home has not paid the full amount of any penalty. Instead, it has negotiated reduced fines, is currently challenging others, and in one case involving a $50,000 penalty, simply never paid.
Earlier this year, the legislature passed sweeping nursing-home reforms that boosted minimum staffing levels, stepped up criminal background checks on new residents and tightened rules on psychotropic medications. But facing political pressure from some nursing home owners, lawmakers exempted Alden and 300 other facilities caring for the developmentally disabled — about a quarter of Illinois homes providing long-term care.
Meltzer, who was instrumental in crafting the legislation, said she thinks lawmakers now have a better chance to pass a bill to help people with developmental disabilities.
"There is more public pressure and attention, and these facilities can't claim that there is nothing wrong with them — that it's just the other guys," she said.
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