The venerable newspaper's investigation found that mentally ill patients make up greater than 15 percent of the total nursing home population in the state of Illinois. What's more, the Tribune reported on September 29, 2009, that the number of residents convicted of felonies had increased to 3,000.
The investigation found that background checks performed by the state understated criminal records. What's more, state authorities did not track assaults and other crimes in nursing homes in Illinois.
The stories are heartbreaking.
One elderly resident was raped by a 21-year-old ex-con with acute psychiatric problems who also lived at the facility. A gang member living at a nursing home facility stabbed a frail resident (and blind in one eye) in the face with an ice pick. A year later, the same assailant slashed the same resident in the throat.
One resident in a wheelchair died from severe head injuries. Among the suspects was a 24-year-old mentally ill woman with a history of drug abuse and prostitution.
All the incidents constitute nursing home abuse, due to the fact that they all occurred in state nursing homes.
The reason for this growing trend of housing elderly residents and disturbed patients together, the Tribune found, is the shifting demographic landscape. But that's only part of the story. While the population of the country is aging—with the first wave of baby boomers starting to retire—more boomers who have the financial capacity will opt for home health care or assisted-living options. The result is a drop in population among Illinois facilities (including nursing homes in Chicago) of 11 percent.
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The result is the housing of elderly residents side by side with younger residents suffering from things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The Tribune reported that in 2008, more than 25 percent of all residents in nursing homes in Illinois carried a primary diagnosis of mental illness—a category that does not include age-related dementia of Alzheimer's.
As a result, Illinois nursing home abuse for residents is less a matter of ill treatment from staff. Rather, it can come from living with a criminal suffering from a mental disease or emotional problems, housed in the same facility.