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State Senate Investigating Problems with Nursing Home Neglect Prevention Program

Our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers know that public resources devoted to rooting out inadequate treatment of senior residents is usually quite meager. It remains impossible for those tasked with protecting these vulnerable residents to frequently check up on all local facilities. State investigators can only investigate a fraction of nursing homes on a consistent basis, and it therefore remains possible for many delinquent facilities to persist continually, hurting residents and disrupting families. The resource problems mean that it is important for outside observers to aid in the effort by reporting cases of Illinois nursing home abuse and using the civil justice system if necessary to hold these care centers accountable.

In addition, it remains important for the public regulators, inspectors, and advocates to use their limited resources in as efficient a manner as possible. These concerns are not unique to Illinois but are found throughout the country. Unfortunately, even public advocates who are specifically charged with improving these long-term care facilities must often engage in battles to avoid unscrupulously political interference in carrying out their tasks. For example, the Orlando Sentinel reported this week on the ongoing debacle surrounding the unseemly actions taken by the state’s executive office to handcuff regulatory efforts in the state’s Department of Elder Affairs.

A state Senate committee is now investigating allegations that there was unlawful interference in the agency by those aligned with big nursing home interests seeking to prevent the elder affairs department from properly holding facilities accountable for their nursing home abuse and neglect. The legislative inquiry was spurred by a federal report which cited problems with the department’s “muzzling” of the state’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Program. That interference included restriction the program’s communication with the media to publicize improper treatment of residents at some locations. In addition, the federal report questioned the state’s role in firing a bulk of the department volunteers-presumably because they were too aggressive in their enforcement efforts.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have questioned those actions, noting that there appears to be a lack of independence of the ombudsman program. That fact was hammered home by the firing of the long-standing and much-heralded former chief ombudsman. The employee was fired after nursing home facility owners complained to the governor that the man was “too aggressive” in trying to root out inadequate care at local nursing facilities.

Our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers understand that it is impossible to rely entirely on public sources to ensure the safety of nursing home residents. Fortunately, all victims of poor elder care and their families can hold wrongdoers accountable on their own without the need for public interference through use of the civil justice system. While filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit is a retroactive form of accountability that does not take back the harm that occurred, it does act as a spur in many cases for the worst performing facilities to enact long-overdue changes that may save the lives of other residents. In the end, ensuring the proper care of vulnerable seniors is a community-wide effort. It is only through the joint effort of public bodies, family, elder care attorneys, advocates, friends, and others that standards can be improved.

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