Yesterday we were troubled to read a new story in the Chicago Tribune bemoaning a lack of oversight of negligent Illinois hospitals. Any Chicago medical malpractice lawyer will explain that besides individual victims demanding accountability when poor care is provided, it is vital for regulators to also provide proper review when medical malpractice occurs. Ensuring that victims receive redress and future victims are spared requires this joint effort between public and private supervision.
Unfortunately, that public oversight might not be as strong as it should be.
According to the new Tribune investigation, hospital regulators rarely pursue allegations against hospitals for Illinois medical malpractice and basic negligence. This was found to be the case even when the allegations involve claims of serious harm and death.
For example, one man was at a local hospital for less than an hour before he used his sheet to hang himself. His body was left hanging from an observation door for nearly fifteen minutes before anyone cut him down. The man was admitted to the facility specifically because he had threatened to kill himself, stating that he couldn’t handle the recent death of his brother. Policy at the home required at-risk patients to be afforded special provisions, such as visual checks every fifteen minutes, or one-on-one observations. However, the hospital failed to take the basic steps demanded of it to keep the man safe. Unfortunately, hospital regulators knew that this facility had a long history of failing in this very basic charge. The hospital had been repeatedly cited for negligence in the past regarding at-risk patients, like the man in this case. Hospital officials always promised changes but never actually delivered. State regulators ultimately did little to enforce their rules and ensure that the total cases of Illinois medical malpractice at the hospital actually decreased.
Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that the string of problems at this facility are indicative of problems elsewhere. Many critics have explained how hospital regulators do little to actually pursue complaints. Even when they are pursued and corrective plans are demanded, the regulators can do little to ensure that the changes are actually made. The corrective plans are filled out in private. Beyond that, the only enforcement tools are often seen as “nuclear options” of shutting down a facility or removing its federal funding (which often amounts to a shut down). There are few intermediary steps to actually get changes to be made that will keep patients safe.
Amazingly, unlike with nursing homes, local hospitals are not fined by state regulators for their conduct. Hospital lobbying organizations have long blocked proposed legislation which would allow regulators to use fines as a way to demand that hospitals actual implement their corrective plans. As one patients’ rights advocate noted in the story, “The hospitals hold all the cards.” Private corrective plans are of little value if they are never actually followed, and considering that regulators have few options to ensure that they are followed, many hospitals do not prioritize improving the care that they provide.
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