Two state Senate committees will hold a joint hearing next month to examine ways to improve safety at Illinois nursing homes, where a high number of felons with mental illness has led to reported assaults, rape and even murder.
Speaking before the hearing in Chicago will be elder advocates and industry groups, as well the heads of major state agencies in charge of nursing home safety, including the departments of public health, aging, health care and family services, and human services.
The Senate human services and public health committees scheduled the hearing for Nov. 5 in response to a three-part Tribune series this month that exposed the dangerous mix of elderly residents and mentally ill felons. The series found incomplete background checks of younger criminals placed in the homes because of their psychiatric disorders, low staffing levels at many of the facilities that admit them, and breakdowns in reporting assaults and other crimes.
"At the end of the day, we need substantive results, and we need to protect our families," said Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago.
Illinois nursing homes have a good safety record, said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, but he added that "the issue has always been people with criminal records -- what screening and what protections do you put in place. That will be looked at."
The hearing is independent of Gov. Pat Quinn's recently convened Nursing Home Safety Task Force, which held the first of six meetings Thursday, and will convene again Oct. 20 to hear public comments about safety issues inside nursing homes.
Following the Tribune series, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also called on public health officials to beef up inspections, improve data-keeping of alleged crimes and review the criminal histories of all 3,000 felons living in nursing homes.
Ron Holmes, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic Caucus, said the joint committee hearing would enable senators to hear about problems firsthand from top officials and experts and to make independent legislative changes if needed.
"We're going to have to look at ways to strengthen laws or enforce them a little better," Holmes said.
Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said she has a special interest in the issue because her North Side district has among the highest concentrations of mentally ill nursing-home residents in the state, and some of the homes generate a large volume of police service calls.
"I want to ask the Public Health Department what (its) plan is to improve enforcement in nursing homes, whether we need legislation or more staff," she said.