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Illinois: 85% of Hospital Complaints Not Investigated

17

November

2011

According to a report originally published by the Associated Press and covered by the Chicago Tribune in early November, the Illinois Department of Public Health did not investigate 85 percent of the 560 hospital complaints it received last year – even when the complaints alleged patient abuse and lax infection control. Some of these allegations of serious harm, or even death, were not investigated even though federal law requires reviews of such claims within 48 hours.

The complaints that were not investigated included one from a patient at Harrisburg Medical Center who said nurses and doctors did not wear protective gowns or gloves while a bacterial infection that had killed one person spread through the hospital. Another patient at Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital reported being pricked by dirty needles, which prompted preventive treatment for HIV. More than 300 cases were not investigated.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the half a million dollars Illinois spent on hospital oversight last year (about half of that money coming from the federal government) was not sufficient. They need more money to do the job. Not the first time, or the last time, we’ll hear that excuse.

I would argue the bigger issue here is not how much money is needed to investigate these complaints; it’s why so many serious cases of negligence are still occurring in the first place? Is it really necessary to spend $1 to investigate why a nurse didn’t use gloves or why old needles were re-used? Of course not. Hospitals—places we go for comfort, recovery and healing—have a responsibility to all their patients to make sure mistakes never occur.

Unfortunately, this story once again reminded me how far we still have to go to make Illinois hospitals safe places, and how little oversight is actually available for outside agencies to identify and solve problems when they do occur. We have a lot of work to do.

In the meantime, innocent victims and their families are the ones who suffer—forcing them to use the courts to fight for justice and the positive changes needed,  so others don’t suffer the same fate.

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