In our continuing series on the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, today the Chicago nursing home injury attorneys of Passen & Powell today take an in-depth look at the various options available to residents of long-term care facilities, and their guardians, for enforcing their rights. In previous articles, we have covered the Act’s applicability and general scope, the living conditions which the Act requires, and residents’ medical and financial rights.
There are three basic means available to residents and their guardians seeking to correct or redress a violation of the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. These are the ombudsman process, complaints to the Illinois Department of Public Health, and private civil lawsuits. Each means of seeking relief works in a different way, and provides a different form of relief – but all three are a way of stopping ongoing violations of the Act.
The first option available for redress is filing a complaint with the long-term care ombudsman, a program operated by the Illinois Department on Aging. The ombudsman is legally obligated to investigate every complaint received from a resident or her representative, and must resolve all complaints. The ombudsman also has the authority to act on behalf of a complainant, and to attempt to persuade facilities to voluntarily comply with the act’s requirements. If these efforts are unsuccessful, the ombudsman can assist the resident or representative in filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The second option for seeking redress is filing a complaint with the Illinois Department of Public Health. Anyone may file a complaint with the IDPH – residents, their representatives, or anyone else who has reason to believe that a long-term care facility is violating the Act. Complaints may be made anonymously (although anonymous complainants cannot receive notice of the resolution of the complaint). Complaints related to discharge or transfer – an appeal of a notice of transfer or discharge from the facility – must be filed within 10 days of the notice itself. If you have received a notice of transfer or discharge which you wish to contest, it is critical that you contact the department or an experienced elder care attorney as soon as possible.
Although the IDPH is prohibited from revealing the identity of complainants without their written permission, there are exceptions if the department needs to file a court case against the violators, or if revealing the complainant’s name is “essential to the investigation.” Long-term care facilities may not retaliate against a complainant, or any individual who provides information to the IDPH in connection with an investigation. This means that these facilities cannot legally fire, transfer, discharge, evict, or harass you if you choose to file or assist in a complaint to IDPH.
Like the long-term care ombudsman, the IDPH conducts an investigation into each complaint received.
For most complaints, the department has up to 30 days to complete an investigation. In the case of complaints involving abuse or neglect, however, the IDPH is required to complete its investigation within one week.
If the IDPH concludes that the facility is violating the Act, it then send a notice of that violation to the facility itself. The IDPH can then fine the facility, or impose other penalties. If the violation is severe, the IDPH can revoke the facility’s license. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, both the facility and the complainant (if he provides his name) will be informed of the results.
If you wish to appeal the department’s decision, you may do so, provided you meet the applicable deadlines and you follow the correct procedures. If you wish to appeal an IDPH decision, an experienced nursing home injury attorney can help you navigate this procedure to ensure that you do not forfeit your rights.
The third, and most important way to seek relief for serious injuries or death caused by negligence at a nursing home is to file a civil lawsuit. A top injury attorney can help you to navigate this process. For either level of prosecution, it is important to act quickly to avoid missing important deadlines and losing your right to proceed.
You need not wait to file a civil action – indeed, you may file a court case in addition to filing a complaint with the IDPH, or instead of filing a complaint with the IDPH. This is another option available for seeking redress. As with complaints to the IDPH, long-term care facilities may not retaliate against anyone who files a civil action, or provides evidence in connection with such a lawsuit.
Unlike the ombudsman or the IDPH, however, a judge or jury in a civil lawsuit can order the facility to pay you money damages to compensate you and your family for any harm you suffered as a result of the violations of the Act. If a violation is found, the judge will also order the facility to pay your court costs, and the fees you paid to your attorney, and can enter a court order requiring the facility to abide by the requirements of the Act. Resolution of a civil case, however, can take substantially longer than a complaint.
Each of the three options for redress under the Act has benefits, and drawbacks – so each violation and each situation warrants a unique, targeted strategy for seeking relief. If you believe that a long-term care facility has violated your rights or those of a loved one, a top nursing home injury attorney can help you to decide how best to proceed, and to navigate the requirements of whichever path you choose.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.