Illinois’ Governor Pat Quinn forms Nursing Home Safety Task Force

Violence results from mixing the elderly with the mentally ill

Nursing homes are typically thought of as a place to care for the elderly in poor health. However, after the deinstitutionalization of the psychiatric hospitals in the 1960’s, many nursing homes became home to persons with mental illness. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness in their 2009 Grade the State Report, Illinois has more mentally ill patients residing in its nursing homes than any other state.

Chicago Tribune Coverage of Nursing Homes

This past fall, the Chicago Tribune featured a series regarding the safety issues of mixing two very different populations in nursing homes: the mentally ill and the elderly. The Tribune also reported on the presence of convicted felons and sex offenders residing in nursing homes. Unfortunately, there have been quite a few incidents of violence in Illinois nursing homes, raising concern for the well-being of all individuals living in these facilities: the elderly, the mentally ill, convicted felons and sex offenders. Naturally, the Tribune articles have alerted the public and there has been an increased community interest in Illinois’ nursing homes.

Tribune Articles Trigger Formation of Illinois Nursing Home Safety Task Force

In response to the Chicago Tribune series, and to the real safety concerns of mixing the mentally ill and elderly in nursing homes, Governor Pat Quinn appointed a Nursing Home Safety Task Force. Since the October 3, 2009 announcement of the Task Force, there have been six Task Force meetings between Chicago and Springfield. The Task Force is comprised of representatives from various state departments and state-wide organizations: the Department of Public Health, the Department of Health & Family Services, the Department of Human Services/Division of Mental Health, Illinois Housing Development Authority, the Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department on Aging, the Department of Corrections, Illinois State Police, and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The Task Force has taken a comprehensive approach to ameliorating the safety issues of mixing elderly and mentally ill populations in nursing homes. Illinois state department officials went out to visit nursing homes to see for themselves what the real situation looks like. The Task Force has heard testimonies from elderly and mental illness advocates, community members, family members of people in nursing homes, nursing home employees, the Joint Commission on Accredidation of Health Care Institutions, and many more. All of the testimonies, meeting agendas, and either video or audio coverage of the meetings can be found on the Illinois Nursing Home Safety Task Force website.

Task Force Nears Final Recommendations to Governor

Governor Quinn charged the Nursing Home Safety Task Force with formulating recommendations for addressing resident safety in nursing facilities by January 31st, 2010. The Chicago Tribune has written numerous articles on nursing home safety and the Task Force, starting with their initial expose series and following the current unfolding of the Task Force meetings. For aging professionals working with or for nursing homes, there may be changes in rules and regulations to promote safety. As we near the deadline of January 31st, 2010, it will be exciting to hear the Task Force’s final recommendations to the Governor.  It will be imperative that aging professionals, nursing home residents and their families, and the community at-large advocate for the implementation of these recommendations to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable populations who reside in nursing homes.
Picture provided courtesy of: Derrick T on Flickr.

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