But only 59 of the 192 sex offenders in Illinois nursing homes -- or less than one in three -- were listed on that online state registry, a Tribune investigation found.
Part of the problem is a gap in the law: Although some sex offenders can remain dangerous for decades if unmonitored and untreated, many are no longer required to register with police if their convictions or final parole dates occurred more than 10 years ago.
In addition, state investigators have documented more than a dozen instances since 2007 in which nursing homes failed to notify local law enforcement that they housed a convicted sex offender, as required by law, or failed to implement care plans to monitor and treat sex offenders inside the facilities, the Tribune found.
In some cases those offenders allegedly went on to molest vulnerable residents and even staff, according to state public health reports.
The state police sex offender registry is a critical tool for nursing home residents and their families because, under Illinois law, facility administrators don't have to divulge the identities of sex offenders living in the homes, reveal any details of their crimes or even say how many are there.
Instead, state law requires homes to inform people of the state police online registry, which allows them to search for sex offenders by name if known, city, county and ZIP code.
The undercounting of sex offenders in nursing homes on the state police registry represents another example of how Illinois has fallen short in keeping nursing homes safe and consumers fully informed even as the facilities admit growing numbers of felons and psychiatric patients with violent backgrounds.
"Does an unregistered sex offender still pose a risk? Absolutely. The fact that someone is registered or not doesn't really address the (danger) they pose to other people," said Cara Smith, deputy chief of staff to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. "Because of the high risk of recidivism, it is extraordinarily important to have the information."
Last year, state health inspectors cited the Asta Care Center of Elgin for failing to inform authorities that John Gorzela -- deemed a sexual predator by state police -- had been living at the facility for more than a year, according to a state report and Elgin police.
It was not until March 2008 -- after Gorzela allegedly put his hands on a female employee in an inappropriate way "on several occasions" -- that the facility took him to Elgin police to register him as a sex offender, according to state reports and interviews.
A Tribune review of a dozen of the state's confidential background screenings of sex offenders who recently entered nursing homes found some of these assessments omitted details about the sex crimes and contained only cursory information about the risks the offenders posed to vulnerable residents. Four of those assessments took more than six months to complete, and one took a year and a half, even though the law requires that they be done within days of admission.
Sex offender Jack Brougher, 80, was admitted to the Asta Care Center in Bloomington with a February 2008 assessment that rated him as a low risk, meaning he was to be given his own room but generally treated like any other resident, records show. Brougher's state assessment gave no information about his offense, saying only that there was "no violence involved."
That surprised Kim Campbell, first assistant state's attorney in McLean County, where Brougher was convicted of molesting a 5-year-old neighbor when he was 73. "He didn't hit anybody, but this guy is a sexual predator," she said.
Mental health experts and criminologists point out that most men who commit sex offenses early in life discontinue by the time they reach their 50s, but some lose the ability to suppress dangerous urges and impulses as their mental capacities and willpower ebb with age.
Safety assessments and monitoring must be especially rigorous in nursing homes, where sex offenders live close to frail and mentally impaired residents who can't always defend themselves and "may not be able to report" that they've been attacked, said Alyssa Williams-Schafer, coordinator for sex-offender services at the state corrections department.
In a telephone interview with the Tribune, Brougher denied molesting the 5-year-old but said his conviction is widely known among facility residents.
"I don't advertise it -- it's just one of those things that's in the books," Brougher said. When a group of children recently came to entertain residents, Brougher said he was forced to sit in the back. "I'm not supposed to be around kids. ... I got a lot of restrictions," he said.