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Illinois Officials Failed To Investigate Most Hospital Complaints

November 15, 2011

The Illinois Department of Public Health (or IDPH) was formed "to regulate medical practitioners." Medical practitioners include doctors and hospitals. The IDPH's is "responsible for protecting the state's 12.4 million residents...through prevention and control of disease and injury." Despite these obligations, the IDPH has failed to investigate 85% of hospital complaints it received last year including complaints of serious patient abuse and death.

Of the hospital complaints received by the IDPH, one included a bacterial infection that spread through Harrisburg Medical Center and killed at least one patient. During this time, nurses and doctors in that hospital reportedly failed to wear protective gloves and gowns--basic precautions used to reduce the spread of serious infection. In response, the IDPH declined to investigate. At Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital, the IDPH received a complaint a nurse misused an IV machine, resulting in a near fatal medication error. In response, the IDPH declined to investigate. In addition, the IDPH received complaints that patients at Greater Peoria Specialty Hospital were being left in their own feces and, as a result, developed dangerous infections. Once again, the IDPH declined to investigate.

Federal law requires that complaints of serious personal harm or death in hospitals be investigated within 48 hours. This law applies to all states, including Illinois. Despite these federal requirements, the IDPH usually never conducted any investigation into complaints of serious personal injury or wrongful death at anytime--let alone within 48 hours.

If the IDPH is responsible for investigating these hospital complaints based on their own standards and federal law, why are they not investigating? According to Illinois regulators, the reason is simple: lack of funding. IDPH spokeswoman, Melany Arnold, said the department "does not have the funding to investigate complaints, to conduct routine hospital surveys and ensure...[the] safety of patients." Thus, complaints against even one hospital can just pile up without any investigation undertaken by the IDPH.

Although there may be funding constraints, there is a solution. Make hospitals pay at least minimal fees for state investigations into hospital complaints involving alleged serious injury or death. According to the Chicago Tribune, such fees would be pennies a day per hospital bed. Nonetheless, the hospital industry has fought hard against these fees--notwithstanding the minimal costs. In other states, hospitals must pay these fees. However, the Illinois legislature has not, for one reason or another, enacted similar legislation in this state. Until the Illinois legislature enacts legislation requiring hospitals to pay minimal fees for state investigations into hospital complaints, Illinois hospital complaints, including those involving deadly outcomes, will continue to be routinely ignored by the State.

Sources Used:

Chicago Tribune Website, State Declines To Investigate Vast Majority Of Hospital Complaints, November 6, 2011.

Illinois Department Of Public Health Website, Home Page, November 15, 2011.

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