Tribune watchdog investigations spur changes

Marquette University, where officials acknowledged missteps in reporting sex crimes to police following a Tribune report in 2011. (William DeShazer, Chicago Tribune)

Crib safety

Bumper pads that tie around the inside of cribs are a staple of nurseries. They make cribs look cozy and help prevent babies from bumping their heads or getting their limbs caught in the slats. But as the Tribune reported last year, the popular products also pose a suffocation risk to infants, who can die if their faces become pressed into something soft that stops their breathing.

The newspaper's inquiries prodded the Consumer Product Safety Commission to re-examine the safety of the products. That inquiry continues. In the meantime, Chicago became the first city in the country to ban the sale of crib bumper pads, over objections from manufacturers. The state of Maryland also passed a ban, and the American Academy of Pediatrics modified its "safe sleep" policies to state that bumper pads should not be used in cribs.

Meanwhile, in June it became illegal in the U.S. to sell or donate a crib that fails to meet the toughest crib-safety rules in the world. Tribune investigations during four years have found the cribs had become a deathtrap for some babies thanks to bad designs, defective hardware and flimsy parts.

Those stories prompted congressional hearings and recalls, and ultimately led to the new standards that address all of the major hazards that have killed infants in recent years, including "drop sides" that too often broke, creating deadly gaps in which babies got trapped.

Deadly neglect

State authorities moved in March to shutter Alden Village North nursing home in Chicago, subject of a 2010 Tribune investigation that documented a 10-year pattern of death and neglect at the facility. The home, which houses children and adults with severe disabilities, remains open on appeal, and the Illinois Department of Public Health said it expects further action on the case this month.

In June, Quinn signed into law sweeping reforms intended to safeguard thousands of children and adults with developmental disabilities who live in nursing facilities. The new laws, sparked by the Tribune investigation, call for stiffer fines for poor care, fewer roadblocks to closing facilities, stricter rules on the use of psychotropic medicines and increased reporting requirements in cases of death. State officials and some advocates described the legislation as the most significant effort in a generation to help the developmentally disabled in Illinois nursing homes.

Doctor licensing

Two new Illinois laws recently took effect in response to a Tribune series that revealed lax state discipline for doctors who preyed on patients, even for physicians convicted of sex crimes.

The investigation found that at least 16 registered sex offenders held physician or chiropractor licenses within the last 15 years, and not one had his license permanently revoked. A doctor convicted of sexual abuse of a patient was not disciplined by the state in any way.

Under a sweeping new law, doctors and other health care workers convicted of sex crimes, forcible felonies or battery of a patient will be permanently stripped of their medical licenses.

And under the Patients' Right to Know Act, consumers have online access at idfpr.com to detailed histories, including whether a physician has been fired, convicted of a crime or made a medical malpractice payment in the last five years.

"After the Tribune series, we realized it was more important than ever for patients to have access to this information," said state Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago.