Illinois to implement nursing home sexual abuse investigation teams

In 2003, the Illinois legislature called for teams of experts to be formed to review cases of sexual abuse and deaths caused at nursing homes. The widespread abuse and neglect in Illinois and the nation’s nursing homes have finally caught the attention of Governor Blagojevich as he signed a bill into law last week mandating formation of these teams.

The delay in the formation of the teams was due to lack of funding; the teams are expected to cost $450,000. There will likely be 2 teams, one in Cook County and another regional team. The teams will be comprised of a Department of Public Health representative, local law enforcement, experts in mental illness and developmental disabilities, nursing home and nursing home residents’ advocates, representatives from the state’s attorney’s and attorney general’s offices, and others.

While the teams will not have regulatory power or power to impose fines, the teams will investigate incidents of sexual abuse and death and report back to regulatory agencies. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) already has a system in place to investigate homes annually and on a complaint basis, but often these measures are not enough and incidents of sexual abuse go unnoticed and unpunished.

Wendy Meltzer, director of Illinois Citizens for Better Care, a nursing home residents’ advocacy group, believes that the formation of these task forces will allow investigators to look at the problem of sexual abuse in nursing homes more systematically. Instead of imposing a fine and walking away, the teams can assess the underlying causes and sources of the problems and what can be done to prevent the problems before they result in abuse or death.

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