WGN Producer Pam Grimes, Photojournalist Mike D’Angelo, and Chicago Tribune Business Reporter Ameet Sachdev also contributed to this story.
It’s been more than a decade since the closing of Edgewater Hospital on Chicago’s North side. The birthplace of Hilary Rodham Clinton and John Wayne Gacy, shut down abruptly after years of controversy involving Medicare fraud, mismanagement, and bankruptcy.
A joint WGN – Chicago Tribune investigation has confirmed an extraordinary situation involving medical records at the old hospital. And as Nancy Loo reports, not only were medical files left behind inside Edgewater after it closed; they’re still there.
Twelve years after it abruptly closed in 2001, Edgewater Hospital is now what many nearby residents, like Edgewater activist Joe Drantz, call, “an abandoned neighborhood eyesore.” “It has a number of detrimental effects. We have very high real estate taxes here. But that lowers the marketability of our housing stock.” Back in 2001, these people were seen moving what appeared to be files out of the hospital during the shutdown. However, thousands of medical files were left behind. WGN and the Chicago Tribune obtained these photos from a 2009 visit by the State Health Department, a site visit Joe Drantz says was prompted by formal neighborhood complaints. “There’s important information about the records that’s contained in there. Even if it’s not medical. Social security numbers, credit card numbers, pathology tests.” The 2009 department report documents files on the floors, gang tagging, flooding, and moldy files in the basement. It led to the hiring of a new property management company that assured the state about adequate future security. But, less than two years later, in 2011, files in disarray were highlighted in this YouTube video posted by local ghost hunters. “This looks like somebody’s neuroscan of some sort. Is that a brain? It’s a brain, yeah.” They aren’t the only trespassers who’ve been inside Edgewater. “The building is hard to get into, but it’s not impossible.” A local adventure seeker, who asked us to disguise her face, describes what she saw just over a year ago. ”There was a whole room just filled with thousands of patient records. And when you opened up a file, it said the patient’s name, their date of birth, address, social security number. So, everything you’d need to steal their identity.” So far, there are no known cases of identity theft linked to the Edgewater files, some of which we spotted just recently from the public sidewalk through a street level window. Drantz points out where most of the files are located. “The files are in the professional building.” Because of an emergency surgery in 2000, Joe Drantz suspects one of the files is his. “It’s not a 7-11 that closed. This was not a department store.” State law requires the proper retainment of medical files for at least ten years upon the closure of a hospital. But things are murkier when the closure involves a bankrupty. It is now well beyond the ten year retention period for the records inside Edgewater. The State Health Department refused to do an on camera interview, but said in an e-mail statement that hospital “Owners are responsible for preserving medical records when facilities close.” By phone, the Illinois Department of Public Health Division Chief, Bill Bell, who got the site visit report four years ago offered this explanation by phone for not making more of the situation. “There was nothing referred to the Attorney General’s office because we got voluntary agreement to fix the issue that was of concern. And since that time, we have not received any other complaints to go in and visit the facility again, because those records weren’t in any type of jeopardy or anything.” Because of our investigation, Edgewater lawyer Scott Mendeloff worked to file a court motion today to destroy the medical files. Edgewater resident Joe Drantz says he still sees people attempting to get inside the hospital. “Many residents do. And we will shoo them away. Say hey please don’t go in there. It’ not safe, and it’s against the law. You’re trespassing.” Lynne Thomas Gordon, an expert in records management with the American Health Information Management Association, says after the ten year retention period for medical records, the focus must be on their proper disposal. ”They should destroy it in a way that it can’t be reassembled. They should make sure that they have a destruction paper that says it was destroyed, and someone should actually oversee that. Because, we’ve had cases in the past where people said that records were destroyed, and they end up on the beach of in a landfill.” A development proposal for the Edgewater site was submitted to the city last month, though there are no immediate plans for demolition or development. But now, the estate appears ready to at least file this situation away. “Hope is not lost until we see the facts. The history of the place, physically, is not very encouraging.
Because of the basement flooding, there are also environmental concerns about the Edgewater site, something that may factor into the eventual removal and destruction of the files.
And check out all of the state’s photos from inside Edgewater on our website, WGNTV.com/coverstory. You can also click the link below for information on what YOU can do to protect your own personal health information.
http://www.Myphr.com (Protecting personal health records)
http://www.Ahima.org (American Health Information Management Association)