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Mysterious Death in Chicago Suburb Prompts Investigations

In recent local news, there was a report of the death of a nursing home resident in the south suburbs of Chicago. This death is particularly mysterious because the medical examiner was unable to conclude a cause of death, though a toxicology report is apparently still pending. Those tests were performed on the victim, as well as done on five other residents at the nursing home who, like the deceased, all became sick with blood pressure problems and respiratory problems. While those five survived, the sixth died a day later. Fire officials indicated that carbon monoxide nor any other gas appeared to be the cause of the illnesses and the death. Without a clear explanation or reason for the death, especially for a patient whose daughter claimed her to be in good health at her age (she was 98 years old), authorities have proceeded to open investigations into the death.

State and Local Investigations

The federal government and state government share responsibilities for overseeing nursing homes and long-term care facilities. While state departments of health and/or aging, as well as state offices of attorneys general also may get involved on either a criminal, civil or regulatory angle, the federal government may also get involved where federal money is spent on insurance for patients through programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Such oversight includes investigations, collecting data for rankings, and placing homes on publicly listed “poor performance” lists or even sanctioning those homes. The federal government will often rely in particular on state data and state investigations.

In this case, the Illinois Department of Public Health, as well as the state’s Medicare Fraud Unit, are looking into the matter. While Medicare fraud may make one think automatically of financial fraud, these units increasingly get involved in multiple states even when there are accusations or complaints of abuse or neglect where it involves medication, since prescribing such medication outside the reasonable parameters of treatment and then billing for it could constitute fraud. Local police in South Holland, Illinois are also looking into the matter in case it involves criminal activity. The key issues here are that the illnesses occurred just a day before the resident’s death, and all of the residents that suffered from those ailments happened to live in the same wing of the building for those receiving assisted living. Thus given the circumstances, it would appear appropriate for a full investigation to determine if any civil or criminal charges should be brought for this unfortunate death.

This case underscores the importance of law enforcement authorities on many levels when it comes to abuse, neglect, and possible consequent deaths of patients at nursing homes across Illinois. Interviewing residents as well as nursing home staff there during those two days will be crucial to figuring out if there was any foul play, or at least some negligence on the part of the nursing home that led to those patients’ illnesses, and then one of those peoples’ death a day later.

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