Tribune watchdog update
The Tribune keeps you informed, from doctors' misdeeds to DNA mishaps
Do Duc Diu, 58, and his daughters Do Thi Nga, 15, and Do Thi Hang, 19, were featured in a Tribune series on the lingering effects of agent orange spraying during the Vietnam War. (Tribune photo by Kuni Takahashi)
—Ellen Gabler and Sam Roe
What we found: A series of Tribune stories on the Chicago Public Schools special education program revealed cases in which the federally mandated educational rights of children with disabilities were denied or delayed.
What's happened since: In March, the district promised a system-wide revamp. Two months later, that revamp began with the hiring of longtime Chicago school principal Dick Smith as head of the newly named Office of Special Education and Supports. Smith promised to bring greater accountability to the department and make it a more "customer-service-oriented agency." Many in the advocacy community applauded the district's hiring of Smith but say proof of any improvements in the system won't come until the new school year is under way.
—Rex W. Huppke and Azam Ahmed
Nursing home safety
What we found: Illinois is an outlier among states in its reliance on nursing homes to house younger adults with mental illness, including thousands of felons. The Tribune uncovered a series of recent cases in which violent nursing home residents assaulted, raped and even murdered their elderly and disabled housemates. The state's criminal background checks on new residents were riddled with errors and omissions that grossly understated their criminal records and danger to others. Only 59 of the 192 sex offenders in Illinois nursing homes were listed on the state's online sex offender registry. Authorities have investigated 86 cases of sexual violence against nursing home residents since July 2007, but only one investigation resulted in an arrest.
What's happened since: On July 29, Gov. Pat Quinn signed landmark nursing home safety reform that will beef up existing criminal background checks and psychological screenings of incoming nursing home residents, and it will place the relatively small number of dangerous patients into separate, secure therapeutic wards. The new law requires the state to hire dozens of new nursing home inspectors and, overall, is designed to divert thousands of mentally disabled people from nursing homes into an array of smaller, residential programs in the community. Sparked by the Tribune investigation, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is continuing to raid some of the state's most troubled nursing homes, arresting scores of residents wanted on outstanding warrants.
—Gary Marx and David Jackson
What we found: In April 2009, the Tribune revealed how public officials in south suburban Crestwood had secretly pumped contaminated well water to residents for more than two decades. Records showed that officials kept using the well even though state environmental officials had told them two decades earlier that the water contained dangerous chemicals related to a dry-cleaning solvent.
What's happened since: Since the last round of Tribune Watchdog updates, federal and state health officials unveiled a study in March that found "significantly elevated" cancer rates in Crestwood that could be linked to the village's tainted well. The Tribune also reported that Crestwood officials had billed taxpayers for more than $1 million in legal bills to defend Mayor Robert Stranczek and his father, former Mayor Chester Stranczek, from lawsuits related to the water scandal.
Child welfare revelations
What we found: The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had increasingly diverted families with issues of neglect or abandonment to probate court, a system typically reserved for less complex guardianship cases, rather than sending them through juvenile court where they could receive support services. In some cases, DCFS issued letters declaring someone as the caretaker of a minor child without conducting background checks or home monitoring. The undated letters, granted without court approval as part of the DCFS Extended Family Support Program, allowed children to remain in the custody of caretakers for years, even when their foster parent licenses had expired or been placed on hold because of violations in the home.
What's happened since: DCFS stopped issuing the custodial letters on March 17, two weeks after the Tribune raised questions with DCFS officials about the practice. The agency named an independent consultant to review the Extended Family Support Program and make recommendations to DCFS Director Erwin McEwen. DCFS officials said they are reviewing the report and re-evaluating the program.
Mayor's claim of medal
What we found: The Tribune revealed in May that national military records do not match Calumet Park Mayor Joseph DuPar's claims that he won the Medal of Honor, the military's highest decoration, and four Bronze Star medals, which are awarded for acts of bravery and merit.