Owner of Pasadena’s Las Encinas Hospital accused of applying lax standards at its Chicago facility


The parent company of a troubled Pasadena psychiatric hospital where multiple patient deaths and the rape of a teenage girl have come under scrutiny is being criticized for a corporate culture said to breed safety problems.

An independent review by the University of Illinois at Chicago for that state’s Department of Children and Family Services found that Corona-based Signature Healthcare Services has “corporate-level quality of care issues.”

Those include inadequate staffing, sexual assaults among patients, mishandling of medication doses and poor oversight of patients. “The root causes of these deficiencies,” the report concluded, “can likely be attributed in large part to a dysfunctional corporate context.”


The company operates two hospitals in Arizona, one in Chicago and four in California; those are in Pasadena, Covina, San Diego and Ventura. The facility in Chicago was the subject of inquiries by the Chicago Tribune in 2010. The newspaper found that there have been at least four reports of youths sexually assaulted or abused at that facility since July 2008.

The Times previously reported that the company’s hospital in Pasadena, Aurora Las Encinas Hospital, came under review after allegations that a 14-year-old female patient was raped while facility staffers slept; the deaths of two patients who were unmonitored while undergoing detoxification; the hanging suicide of a male patient; and the fatal overdose of a patient who ingested contraband drugs smuggled into the facility.

The new Illinois report coincides with a whistleblower lawsuit by an employee of the Pasadena hospital against Las Encinas, alleging that the owners of the hospital defrauded the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by providing “minimal, substandard care to patients.”

In a written response, Aurora said the University of Illinois report, which focused on Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, overreached; it unsuccessfully requested that the most critical findings be deleted.

Executives said the report “comes to the easy but erroneous conclusion that [Chicago Lakeshore Hospital] must be criticized for failure to eliminate all risk.” The hospital also said it took aggressive action to increase patient supervision after reports of sexual abuse.

Other findings in the university’s 44-page report on the Chicago hospital:

• There was “a clear breakdown” in the monitoring of psychiatric patients. In one case in 2009, four boys crawled past nurses to enter a bedroom with two female patients; one young female patient reportedly told police that “a male patient followed her into the bathroom, grabbed her by the hair and forcibly raped her.”


• A 15-year-old girl told staff she was having sex with a male patient in her room in 2008. The same year, two 11-year-olds were said to have sodomized another 11-year-old in a children’s unit bathroom. In 2010, two boys reportedly engaged in sex in a patient bedroom.

• The hospital recycles “previously ineffective policies” on improving patient supervision, and the facility has “a recurring problem of ineffective clinical/administrative oversight.”

• A youth was given too low a dose of antipsychotic medication; the hospital realized its error only after the patient punched a staff member in the face.

“Staffing patterns create an extremely unsafe environment and poor patient care,” a worker told the report authors, who were in the university’s department of psychiatry. Authors reported seeing a staff member sleeping on duty, prompting patients to point and giggle.

The report’s authors said it was unhelpful for the hospital to fault only staff members for lapses in care, “especially when it now seems clear that corporate officials were fully aware that this intractable patient safety issue signaled an organizational failure.”


Chicago Tribune staff writer David Jackson contributed to this report.