Saying they wanted to avoid more casualties, state authorities took steps Thursday to shut down the troubled Alden Village North nursing home, where numerous disabled children have died in recent years.
"We don't want another tragedy to occur," said Michael Gelder, the governor's senior health policy adviser.
The action follows a Tribune investigative series in October that revealed a 10-year pattern of neglect and death at the North Side facility, which cares for about 90 children and adults with severe developmental disabilities.
The officials said shutting nursing facilities was rare and that they were pursuing such action against Alden because inspectors have found eight serious violations at the home since January 2008, when current operator Floyd A. Schlossberg acquired the facility.
"That's pretty high," said Teresa Garate, assistant director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Contacted Thursday night, the Alden spokesman released a statement that said: "In the brief time that we have operated Alden Village North, we have made numerous and significant improvements to its environment and care. We were surprised that the Illinois Department of Public Health would take this highly unusual step to initiate revocation proceedings. We intend to contest this action. We believe in our mission and in the care that we provide to our residents."
Schlossberg is president of Alden Management Services. His firm runs more than 20 nursing facilities in Illinois. The Tribune series documented how Alden Village North, 7464 N. Sheridan Road, failed to take basic steps to care for some of its residents, putting lives in jeopardy and racking up dozens of violations. At least 13 children and young adults have died at the facility since 2000 in cases that resulted in citations for neglect or failure to investigate to rule out neglect.
In a document released Thursday spelling out its case for shutting Alden, the state cited several inspection reports since 2008 that detailed neglect and deaths — cases documented in the Tribune series.
For example, the state cites the death of Jeremiah Clark, 9, who died of shock, infection and bowel obstruction in 2009. His school had sent him home two days in a row because he was ill, but Alden did not call his doctor until the third day and just hours before he died.
"The state has a very strong case, and we wouldn't have done this if we didn't," Gelder said.
He said that if the facility closes, the public health department and the Illinois Department of Human Services will help Alden residents — many of whom are medically fragile — move to other homes.
"There are other facilities with some vacancies that we can use," Gelder said. Group homes may also be an option for some.
When asked why officials would not give Alden another chance, Gelder said the state wanted to avoid what he termed "yo-yo" facilities: "They do a really good job when they know someone is coming to look, but yet we have problems as soon as the spotlight is turned off. We can't tolerate that any longer."
He said it's not as simple as Alden promising "not to speed again." The key questions, he said, are: Has the home violated important rules? Have people died or been injured? Has this happened repeatedly and over time?
"Now we have the evidence that, indeed, you would answer yes to those questions," he said. "So this is the appropriate action for the state to take."
In response to the Tribune series, officials took a variety of actions to safeguard Alden residents. Gov. Pat Quinn ordered a monitoring team be placed at the facility. Officials said Thursday that the team remains in the home, mainly observing how staff treats residents.
Policymakers and advocates have also been meeting weekly to draft legislation to safeguard residents of Alden and other Illinois facilities for people with developmental disabilities. So far, the debate has centered on increasing fines for poor care.
Illinois moves to close troubled nursing home
State official: 'We don't want another tragedy to occur'
Alden Village Health Facility in Bloomingdale. (Chuck Berman/Tribune)