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Chicago City Council Members Seek Hearing on Psychiatric Hospital

Aldermen ask for hearing to address allegations of sexual and physical abuse at Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital.

Two Chicago City Council members Wednesday called for a hearing to look into reports that children at a psychiatric hospital were physically and sexually abused, including those in state care.

Alderman Ed Burke, the powerful chairman of the council’s Finance Committee, and Alderman Margaret Laurino, from the Northwest Side’s 39th Ward, introduced the resolution calling for a hearing on Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. The request, which cited ProPublica Illinois investigations, asks for details on the hospital’s business license and a review of the allegations.

ProPublica Illinois found 16 allegations of abuse or neglect at the hospital in Uptown involving children since January. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which is charged with investigating those allegations, found sufficient evidence to support four. Seven were not substantiated, and five continue to be investigated.

Some of those children had already been cleared for discharge but remained at the hospital because DCFS failed to find them a more appropriate placement.

Among the allegations that DCFS is investigating is that of a 7-year-old girl who was taken to the emergency room after she reported that a 12-year-old boy pulled down her pants and sexually assaulted her with his finger, according to confidential reports obtained by ProPublica Illinois. The agency also continues to investigate allegations of an 8-year-old boy who reported that his peers hit him, climbed on top of him and masturbated next to his bed, records show.

The Chicago Tribune also has reported on the allegations at the hospital.

“These are very serious charges and we want to hear what everyone has to say,” Laurino said in an email. “Hopefully, by holding the hearing, we’ll be able to shed more light on the issue. We also hope that by bringing together the various interested parties, they will move forward and do the right things to correct any problems.”

The proposal was referred to the council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection, where representatives from the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection will be called to address the status of the hospital’s business license.

“The City cannot ignore these allegations as ‘someone else’s’ matter to resolve,” the resolution read.

The Illinois Department of Public Health licenses the state’s psychiatric hospitals. It also evaluates facilities for Medicare and Medicaid certification.

“IDPH appreciates any and all cooperation to protect the health and safety of Illinoisans, particularly vulnerable children,” spokeswoman Emma Ciavarella said.

The state’s public health inspectors are investigating the hospital on behalf of federal officials for patient monitoring and medication consent violations. Federal regulators have set a Nov. 30 deadline for the hospital to fix the violations or lose federal funding, which hospital officials said would force them to close the facility. The hospital has submitted a plan of correction.

Hospital CEO David Fletcher-Janzen, who has said that the hospital operates “at the highest standards,” said in response to Wednesday’s proposal that any review of the hospital should be done by someone who understands trauma, DCFS and operational issues at a psychiatric hospital.

DCFS sends a large number of children in its care to Lakeshore because the hospital accepts children and teens with the highest needs that other hospitals have turned away, DCFS officials have said. In response to the allegations at Lakeshore, DCFS stopped sending children to the hospital this month and agreed to an independent review involving children in its care at the facility.

The agency is working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which monitors DCFS as part of a decades-old consent decree, to select an expert to lead the review and determine its scope.

“DCFS is focused on its responsibility for monitoring the safety, care and treatment of foster youth at Lakeshore each day,” said Neil Skene, special assistant to the agency’s acting director.

Wednesday’s resolution also asks the Cook County acting public guardian, Charles Golbert, and representatives from the city’s Law and Public Health departments to appear at the hearing. Golbert has been vocal in his call for an independent review of the hospital. He called the proposed hearing a positive development.

“The citizens of Chicago have a right to know what’s going on next door,” Golbert said. “This hospital is operating in Chicago and DCFS frankly wants everything to be be kept quiet and swept under the rug.”

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