Illinois' largest psychiatric hospital left sexual predators unguarded despite allegations that at least 10 mentally disabled children were assaulted during the last three years.
The youngest victim was an 8-year-old state ward admitted for evaluation after expressing suicidal thoughts.
Administrators at west suburban Riveredge Hospital and government authorities failed to share basic information as the savage violence left some youth worse off than when they arrived, a Tribune investigation found.
After the newspaper asked about the series of assault reports, the state Department of Children and Family Services last week stopped admitting wards to Riveredge—a punishment imposed on just three other psychiatric hospitals since 2004, records show.
On Wednesday, agency officials announced that the Tribune's findings had prompted them to immediately impose changes, including new training for child-protection workers and better reporting of assault allegations.
In one incident last year, Riveredge workers noted drops of blood in the bathroom where a psychotic 19-year-old said another teen raped him. But records show hospital officials didn't send the victim to a local emergency room for a trauma evaluation and didn't report the allegations to local police.
That young man's alleged attacker had been admitted with "special precautions" to protect other patients from sexual assault. Yet even after that rape report, inspectors found, Riveredge failed to assign an aide to maintain the required one-on-one observation.
The attacker struck the same victim again the next day, government records show.
Riveredge executives said patient confidentiality laws bar them from discussing specific incidents, but said they protect youth while providing top-notch care to some of Illinois' most damaged and dangerous patients.
"I can't speak knowledgeably about incidents from the past, but the current team has a dedication to excellence," said Carey Carlock, who became the hospital's new chief executive officer last month.
On a recent tour of Riveredge, paint crews could be seen applying soothing garden murals. Tucked between the Des Plaines River and a Forest Park cemetery, the warren of locked two-story dorms is a flagship facility of Psychiatric Solutions Inc., or PSI, the nation's largest for-profit behavioral health firm.
Authorities turned to PSI several years ago amid the collapse of big state- and church-run facilities that promised to treat the same daunting population: DCFS wards whose misbehavior and mental disabilities overwhelm foster-care guardians and group-home managers.
State agencies last year paid Riveredge $32.4 million to treat public aid recipients. About 80 of the hospital's beds go to adults, and the other 130 hold youth, including children placed in DCFS custody after enduring abuse or neglect.
Some of the patients have violent histories while the mental disabilities of others render them vulnerable. Six of the 10 reported victims allegedly were attacked by fellow youth, the other four by adults.
The Tribune pieced together accounts by examining thousands of pages of records from local police, state and federal agencies, and court filings. Some government records were redacted to protect the privacy of hospital patients and workers, so it wasn't always possible to determine the precise outcome of each case.
An alphabet soup of local, state and federal agencies have piecemeal responsibility for monitoring the facility. But they often don't cooperate, the Tribune found, and DCFS has cut back on thorough investigations of such hospitals.
The newspaper uncovered instances in which hospital administrators shooed away police. In other cases, police didn't send their reports to state inspectors. In yet another example, the state Department of Public Health cited River-edge for 22 patient-safety deficiencies last year and Forest Park police were called to the units. But the Tribune found that DCFS did not have records pertaining to many of those incidents.
Until 2003, DCFS conducted broad investigations of the psychiatric hospitals where state wards are shuttled for short stints, sometimes pulling clinical files and interviewing youth and staff during unannounced midnight visits. Today, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said, the agency focuses on reports of harm to individual wards, but "there are not formal inspections, investigations, evaluations of the facilities as a whole."
DCFS Director Erwin McEwen said he was surprised to learn from a reporter that his agency no longer conducted the investigations, known as Independent Utilization Reviews.
Hospital thwarts police inquiries
Paper's findings spur changes in practices that left mentally disabled children exposed to attacks
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