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Chicago Psychiatric Hospital Under Investigation for Sexual Abuse, Assault on Children
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Photo: Propublica.org/PrtSc

Chicago Psychiatric Hospital Under Investigation for Sexual Abuse, Assault on Children

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For more than three years, hundreds of children from all over the US have been sent to psychiatric hospitals without medical necessity as the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) couldn’t find them a more appropriate setting in time. Until today, the problem was mainly in the fact that children have to languish in the hospitals for many months after they were allowed to be released, though now the question is much more troubling since new horrific facts have been revealed in a new study by ProPublica.

A Chicago psychiatric hospital risks losing its funding by the end of November or even being closed if it doesn’t tackle numerous deficiencies within its walls. The hospital is under federal and state investigation over safety concerns and alleged sexual assaults.

Federal inspection reports in 2018 show that the Illinois DCFS has investigated 16 allegations of abuse and neglect, many sexual in nature, at the hospital between staff and child patients, and other hospital residents just this year.

These claims were found credible after the DCFS investigation:

  • A 10-year-old girl complained that her 11-year-old female roommate asked her to have sex and was touching other girls in their unit in a sexual manner. When questioned, the 11-year-old reported having sexual experiences at a previous hospital and at home.
  • An April complaint came from the mother of a 17-year-old patient with mental health issues. The boy suffered a bloody mouth and facial cuts and bruising after two staff members dragged him to his bedroom and threatened to break his arm while pinning him down on his bed, with his arms held over the bed rail, according to documents.
  • A 12-year-old boy said he was sexually abused by an older teen. Several other patients also complained about the teenage boy, who was then sent to the juvenile detention center. DCFS found the hospital had provided inadequate supervision during the incidents.

The agency said it continues to investigate other claims, including these:

  • A 7-year-old girl said a 12-year-old boy pulled down her pants and sexually assaulted her with a finger. At the time of the Sept. 10 incident, the girl had been hospitalized for more than two months for homicidal and suicidal behaviors. The boy, who had a history of sexual aggression, had been hospitalized for nearly three months.
  • Two females accused a male staff member of touching them inappropriately. She said the worker kissed her and sexually assaulted her with his finger in early September. The other girl, who is 12, told a counselor the man touched her breast in late August. DCFS and Chicago police are still investigating.
  • In April, a 15-year-old patient complained the same worker made her feel uncomfortable after he made sexually suggestive comments, including that he wanted to be her roommate. The child welfare agency determined her complaint was unfounded.
  • The mother of an 8-year-old boy called the hotline Sept. 9 alleging her son was battered by peers, touched sexually and exposed to two masturbating roommates during the five days he was hospitalized.

Apart from sexual abuse allegations, the Illinois Department of Public Health has conducted several inspections on behalf of federal authorities since July that found the hospital had failed to ensure the safety of suicidal patients, obtain consent before giving patients — including children — powerful medications and sufficiently monitor patients. Among those reportedly abused or hurt in the incidents were children who had been cleared for discharge from the hospital weeks or months earlier.       

“Chicago Lakeshore Hospital takes every allegation of impropriety very seriously and files reports immediately. All allegations, regardless of probability, are reported to maintain a high level of caution and transparency,” the CEO, David Fletcher-Janzen, said.

“Our goal is to improve the lives of these young patients so they can grow to be healthy adults both physically and mentally.”

Meanwhile, employees who are subjects of allegations are either suspended or moved to a different building while Lakeshore and DCFS investigate…

It would be appropriate to mention that it’s far from the first time the hospital has come under fire. For instance, in recent years state inspections found that an employee, who was later removed, repeatedly punched a 26-year-old patient who had hit him; that the hospital failed to ensure a safe setting for a 15-year-old girl who received 18 stitches after cutting herself by breaking off part of a toilet; and that proper precautions were not taken with a patient with a history of inappropriate sexual behavior, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Moreover, a host of problems were found in the distant 2010, when DCFS hired consultants from the University of Illinois at Chicago to conduct a review of Lakeshore. Lakeshore officials disputed the findings at the time, saying the report was “highly subjective” and contained findings “unsupported by the facts.”

The Chicago Tribune also revealed in 2010 that children at the hospital had been sexually assaulted.

In yet another case, mentioned above, a 17-year-old boy diagnosed with bipolar disorder was left with a bloody mouth and bruising in April after he said two male employees dragged him to his room, where they pinned him down while holding his arms over the bedrail, according to DCFS records. The boy said one of the workers threatened to break his arm.

He had been admitted to the hospital that day after a suicide attempt, his mother said.

“It’s never easy sending your child to the hospital, but the thing that helps you sleep at night is at least you know they’re safe,” the mother said in an interview. “But he was far from safe. He was hurt and scared.”

She began looking for another hospital to transfer him to immediately.

“I knew I could rescue him from there,” the mother said. “But most of the kids there are wards of the state. There is no one to rescue them.”

On November 2, the state’s Child Welfare Agency agreed to stop sending children in its care to the Chicago psychiatric hospital where children have reported being sexually abused and assaulted but said it would not seek the full independent investigation advocates had requested, setting up a possible court fight.

DCFS’ acting Inspector General, Meryl Paniak, who first urged DCFS to undertake the review, said she was disappointed by the agency’s decision not to seek an independent review.

“I don’t think that the department has done enough to ensure the safety of the kids there,” Paniak said.

The decision by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services came one day after state lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois demanded the agency allow an outside expert to conduct a comprehensive investigation of Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital on the city’s North Side.

Claire Stewart, an ACLU attorney, said the group also wants an independent review of the hospital. The organization is considering legal intervention, she added.

“We will do what we need to do to protect the youth in care,” Stewart said. “This is an immediate safety concern and priority.”

Author: USA Really