Illinois officials admit failure in investigating nursing home complaints during COVID-19

(The Center Square) – Officials tasked with investigating complaints at hundreds of long-term care facilities in Illinois regulated by the state failed to follow state law. Outside oversight is now being brought in to review, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

IDPH said federal guidance during the pandemic scaled back regulatory oversight of long-term care facilities to reduce the number of people going in and out of facilities with congregate settings.

“Regardless … Illinois law … requires abuse and neglect complaints to be reviewed within certain timeframes,” the department said. State law “was not suspended and IDPH personnel did not complete reviews of allegations of abuse and neglect in a timely manner between approximately March 15 and June 30.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker last month replaced two state officials who oversaw Illinois’ COVID-19 response in nursing homes. The Illinois Department of Public Health said the deputy director of the Office of Health Care Regulation left state employment on July 20, the same day the chief of the Bureau of Long-Term Care was put on leave. Pritzker didn’t elaborate why the officials were relieved of their duty, only to say more information would be forthcoming, but it was not made clear if the two employees were disciplined for the failed oversight.

“IDPH took immediate action to ensure all of the complaints received during this time period have been investigated,” the department said. “IDPH also took appropriate personnel action.”

IDPH announced it hired Manatt Health Strategies, LLC, to conduct a top to bottom, independent review of its Bureau of Long-Term Care in the Office of Health Care Regulation. It also hired former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, A. Courtney Cox, to review specific long-term care investigations conducted by IDPH during the pandemic.

Of 272 allegations of abuse and neglect that were received from March 15 through June 30, 17 were substantiated and Cox will review those complaints to determine if any future regulatory or legal steps are warranted.

The department didn’t immediately respond to questions about how much the contracts for Manatt and Cox will cost taxpayers.

“Our top priority as a regulator of long-term care facilities in Illinois is ensuring vulnerable Illinoisans are kept safe by those responsible for their care,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Anything short of that is unacceptable, and our entire department is committed to getting this right as we move forward.”

Of the 7,857 deaths public health officials say are COVID-19 related, more than half, or 4,319, were associated with a long-term care facility.

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