An Illinois lawmaker said she will propose legislation to require hospital employees to report suspected patient-on-patient sexual assaults to law enforcement.
The proposal, from State Sen. Julie Morrison, a Lake Forest Democrat, was prompted by a ProPublica investigation that found that Roseland Community Hospital officials failed to report a possible sexual assault of a patient in its psychiatric ward, even though it was captured on surveillance video.
Morrison, chair of the senate health committee, said she was “appalled that a report was not made to law enforcement.” Currently, only alleged assaults of patients by hospital employees must be reported to law enforcement.
“I don’t believe any patient should lose the human rights of being protected in a hospital, regardless of who assaults them,” Morrison said in an interview. “People in these locked facilities are very vulnerable anyway. They have so many issues they are trying to deal with, and to not have that very minimal protection for their safety is totally unacceptable.”
The incident occurred June 24 in the day room of the 24-bed behavioral health unit at the hospital on Chicago’s South Side, which has a history of patient-care violations. But hospital officials said they didn’t learn about it until late August, as they were reviewing footage in response to an unrelated complaint, according to federal records.
Even then, Roseland officials didn’t report the incident to police or public health authorities. The Illinois Department of Public Health learned about the footage following an external complaint, which identified the alleged attacker as a 49-year-old man with a history of sexual violence and aggression. Federal officials cited the hospital for failing to properly monitor the 49-year-old and adequately investigate the incident, among other violations. The federal regulators labeled the violations as placing patients’ health and well-being in “immediate jeopardy.”
A spokesperson for Tim Egan, president and CEO of Roseland, said Egan would not comment on a legislative proposal without seeing a draft of it. The spokesperson said the hospital’s internal investigation is ongoing; more than five months after the incident, Roseland still has not identified the person who may have been attacked.
A complaint to state officials obtained by ProPublica identified this person as a 21-year-old man with developmental disabilities, but Egan has said that patient was not involved in the “sexual activity,” as the incident was described in reports. He said, too, the hospital has not determined whether the contact was consensual or not, but he acknowledged it was inappropriate. He previously said the hospital would have called police immediately if it “looked like there was a crime committed.”
Egan has said the hospital made reforms and retrained staff to correct lapses found by public health investigators.
Chicago police are currently investigating the sexual assault complaint, according to department spokesperson Don Terry. The department began its investigation after the caregivers of the 21-year-old filed a police report.
The state health department is exploring changes to public health regulations that would require hospitals to report patient-on-patient assaults. But Morrison said she believed a state law was necessary to mandate such reporting. She said she hopes to introduce the bill this month or early next year.
“I don’t think that every change that we make in policy should always be legislated,” Morrison said. “But sometimes that requires having a bill filed and being made very public to shine enough light on a problem so that an agency, in this case public health, will step up and make administrative changes.”
IDPH spokesperson Melaney Arnold said the agency is reviewing state and federal reporting requirements, an initial step toward proposing new rules. Adopting new rules could take several months.
“IDPH has not been approached at this time about proposed legislation but will continue to work with stakeholders and members of the General Assembly on policies to protect the health and safety of all Illinois residents,” Arnold said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Illinois Health and Hospital Association, which represents more than 200 hospitals across the state, said the organization would need to review Morrison’s bill and seek input from its members before commenting.