DCFS bars admission of wards to Riveredge Hospital

July 17, 2008 12:32:00 PM PDT
Illinois officials have stopped sending children who are wards of the state to a psychiatric hospital where, according to a newspaper report, sexual predators were left unguarded despite allegations that mentally disabled children were assaulted. A Department of Children and Family Services spokesman said the punishment was made because of "serious concerns" about the way Riveredge Hospital in Forest Park handled a fight among patients, including its failure to promptly notify DCFS. But Kendall Marlowe said other changes -- including retraining staff about their legal duties to report abuse and more training by DCFS -- were a direct result of a Chicago Tribune's investigation published Thursday.

And, Marlowe told The Associated Press on Thursday, "We have required the hospital to take corrective actions and no DCFS wards will be placed at this facility until we are fully satisfied that their safety will be assured."

The hospital in Forest Park is just the fourth psychiatric hospital the state's DCFS has punished in this way since 2004.

In its investigation, the Tribune found a lack of communication between Riveredge, the largest psychiatric hospital in Illinois, and government authorities after alleged attacks.

In one 2007 incident, an alleged rape of a 19-year-old by another teen in a bathroom was not reported to police and the alleged victim was not treated, even though workers found drops of blood in the bathroom.

Records show the alleged attacker had been admitted to Riveredge with "special precautions" to protect others from sexual assaults and even after the alleged attack, the hospital failed to assign an aide to maintain required one-on-one observation.

According to government records, the attacker allegedly raped the same victim again the next day.

In all, records indicate at least 10 mentally disabled children were assaulted at Riveredge during the last three years, six by other youths and four by adults.

The hospital offered assurances about its treatment of its patients, both those youths placed in DCFS custody after being abused or neglected and patients with violent histories and mental problems.

"I can't speak knowledgeably about incidents from the past, but the current team has a dedication to excellence," said Carey Carlock, the hospital's new chief executive officer.

As recently as five years ago, the DCFS conducted broad investigations of psychiatric hospitals where state wards are placed for short periods. The so-called Independent Utilization Reviews sometimes included interviews of youth and staff during unannounced late-night visits.

The DCFS now focuses on reports that individual wards have been harmed -- a practice that came as a surprise the agency's director.

"I have not been able to find out specifically when and why we discontinued that practice," said Director Erwin McEwen.

The Tribune found that the state health department cited Riveredge 22 times last year for deficiencies that threatened the safety or legal rights of patients. That number is just nine fewer than total number of citations issued to a dozen other private psychiatric hospitals or hospital units that serve DCFS wards.

And, after federal regulators found out about the alleged rapes of the 19-year old, they placed Riveredge under what it called "immediate jeopardy" of losing Medicaid and Medicare funding because the hospital had not "ensured the protection of patients from sexual abuse."

Riveredge said the hospital quickly corrected the deficiencies.

Still, there are indications the hospital has since then failed to notify authorities about problems as it should. As recently as this month, the DCFS said, the hospital failed to promptly notify the agency of a fight in the adolescent boys unit.


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