‘Hospital of horrors’: Children in state care abused at Chicago hospital, lawsuit says

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CHICAGO — Cook County’s public guardian filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against a Chicago psychiatric facility that treated children in state care, alleging troubling claims of sexual abuse and improper medication at the “hospital of horrors.”

The complaint, filed on behalf of seven children and teenagers who were formerly patients at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, named several current and former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials. State officials knowingly sent children to the hospital, despite its documented problems, because it was one of the few psychiatric facilities that would accept children in its custody, the lawsuit alleged.

Children as young as 7 were subject to or witnessed sexual abuse by staff and peers, according to the lawsuit. When children reported the abuse, they were further victimized, the complaint said. One was allegedly given a powerful sedative when it wasn’t necessary.

“Instead of being placed in a safe environment where they could focus on their treatment, each plaintiff found himself or herself in a hospital of horrors where they were subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse and otherwise not properly supervised or monitored,” the lawsuit said.

Staff also attempted to conceal evidence or thwart investigations by destroying video tapes and fabricating paperwork, the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint seeks unspecified monetary damages.

One role of Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, an attorney appointed by the county’s chief judge, includes representing neglected children in legal proceedings.

“When youth enter the DCFS system, they frequently have already experienced severe trauma and are among our area’s most vulnerable residents,” Golbert said in a statement. “But rather than providing these young children the focused care they deserved, DCFS sent them to Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, knowing they would not be safe.”

The state last year stopped admitting children to the troubled hospital, which has been the subject of investigations by ProPublica and The Chicago Tribune. Also, health inspections in recent years found the hospital didn’t have satisfactory policies and procedures to investigate abuse allegations.

Children in state care who remained at the hospital after 2018 have been monitored by someone from the state around the clock, according to DCFS.

Agency spokesman Jassen Strokosch said DCFS takes abuse allegations seriously and said previous administrations “hollowed out” the agency’s funding. He said Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has reversed course and the 300 additional staff hired since April had already made “dramatic improvements to overcome the challenges that have plagued the department for decades.”

Chicago Lakeshore Hospital CEO Patricia McClure-Chessier defended the hospital Wednesday over “the egregious distortion that has been portrayed.”

She said the hospital has served the state as an anchor of mental health care that puts the health and safety of children first.

“It is tragic that the Cook County Public Guardian chooses to malign health care providers instead of addressing the root of this statewide crisis: a lack of state funding which prevents children from getting appropriate care at the right time and in the right place,” she said in a statement.

DCFS issued the following statement:

“DCFS is committed to protecting the children of Illinois and providing the best possible services to the children in our care. We take seriously any allegations of abuse and have not allowed children to be placed at Lakeshore Hospital since 2018. Prior administrations have hollowed out DCFS with significant reductions in funding and staffing. We are reversing course with the support of the Pritzker administration. With additional resources from the governor’s budget, DCFS has hired more than 300 additional staff since April and begun to make dramatic improvements to overcome the challenges that have plagued the department for decades.”

Read Lakeshore Hospital’s full statement:

Statement from Chicago Lakeshore Hospital CEO Patricia McClure-Chessier

For 50 years Chicago Lakeshore Hospital has served the state of Illinois as an anchor for mental health care.  We have always placed the health and safety of the children we treat as our top priority. We are one of the very few such facilities that remain in the face of dramatic cuts to funding and other resources.

It is tragic that the Cook County Public Guardian chooses to malign health care providers instead of addressing the root of this statewide crisis: a lack of state funding which prevents children from getting appropriate care at the right time and in the right place. Our doctors have testified to this issue before members of the General Assembly on multiple occasions. This problem is beyond the control of Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. Illinois already faces a severe shortage of mental health care providers and driving more out of business only serves to exacerbate the problem instead of solving it.

Chicago Lakeshore Hospital is one of the last available facilities for troubled and abused children.  Our hospital has always cooperated with regulators in a transparent way and we work diligently to correct any problems that arise while treating the most difficult and troubled populations – populations other hospitals cannot or will not treat because of acuity or inadequate reimbursement. We sincerely hope that regulators, policymakers, and lawmakers soon realize that it is in their collective best interest to see us succeed for the sake of children. In the meantime, we will vigorously defend Chicago Lakeshore Hospital using facts rather than the egregious distortion that has been portrayed before the press.

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