Group Targets Nursing Home Violence

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Byline: Carla K. Johnson AP Medical Writer

A sweeping overhaul of the state's long-term care system is needed to address violence stemming from a "toxic" mix of frail elderly and younger mentally ill residents in Illinois nursing homes, a government task force said Friday.

Gov. Pat Quinn's task force on nursing home safety released its final report with 37 recommendations, including increased staffing levels and higher fines, fees and taxes on facilities to pay for more government

oversight and discourage violations -- requirements that the nursing home industry opposes.

Quinn said he'd evaluate the report and work with others to "make these reforms a reality." The recommendations "point the way to a system of long-term care that respects the needs and rights of all residents," Quinn said in a written statement.

The recommendations would add more teeth to laws governing the state's 1,200 nursing homes and expand other types of housing. Task force chairman Michael Gelder, Quinn's senior health policy adviser, said "plenty of legislators" are interested in co-sponsoring needed legislation and he anticipates bipartisan support.

More than any other state, Illinois has relied on nursing homes to house younger adults with serious mental illnesses, an Associated Press analysis found.

Elderly residents have been victimized by stronger, younger residents living next door -- or sometimes in the same room.

A Chicago Tribune series of articles spurred Quinn to form the task force.

The violence ranges from fist fights that leave bruises to rapes and murders. In May 2008, Chicago nursing home resident Ivory Jackson was beaten into a coma by his much younger roommate; Jackson later died. The assailant, after a psychiatric review, was ruled unfit to stand trial and now lives in a state mental hospital.

In January 2009, a 69-year-old woman living in an Elgin nursing home was allegedly raped by a 21-year-old mentally ill resident.

"The mix of vulnerable and potentially aggressive residents in close quarters is toxic, as the tragic reports of violence highlighted," according to the report.

The report blames the problems on the state's "over-reliance on nursing homes" to house the mentally ill after closures of state mental institutions in the 1960s and 1970s. …