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Late last month, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law an ambitious bill that aims to change the way Illinois nursing homes deliver patient care to elderly patients and younger mentally ill patients. The bill was prompted by recent Chicago Tribune investigations into nursing home assaults, rapes and murders of older geriatric patients by younger psychiatric and prison populations housed in the same nursing home facilities.

The bill aims to separate these nursing home populations and elevate care for all. It offers something for everyone: stringent rules to protect elderly residents from the violence revealed by the Tribune investigations and right-sizing care for mentally ill patients that may not need the level of care provided in a nursing home. The bill also requires stricter oversight - the number of state nursing home inspectors will increase by nearly half from 146 to 217 by July 2011.

Along with integrating some mentally ill residents into supportive community housing outside the nursing home setting, the new law also requires criminal and psychological screenings so that dangerous residents will be segregated in a separate therapeutic wing without contact with other residents in the nursing home.

Concerned Citizens Believe the Law's Goals Will Not Be Realized

Some nursing home residents and their advocates have doubts that the benefits for mentally ill patients that move out of the nursing homes will be achieved. One advocate said that she feared her brother, who has mental illness and currently resides in a nursing home, would be forced to live in a crime-ridden area because the state would take advantage of cheap and vacant rental housing in low-cost-of-living neighborhoods.

Others doubt that the state, which currently faces a $13 billion budget deficit, will be able to pay for the costs of moving residents out of the nursing homes, paying for additional inspectors, and segregating residents within nursing homes.

State officials acknowledge the plan's goals are lofty, but note that the state can achieve significant savings by moving some residents out of the nursing homes and into lower-cost supportive housing. The state anticipates that it will receive more federal money after taking this step because the federal government encourages states to integrate people with disabilities into community settings to the greatest extent possible.

The state also plans to raise fees on nursing home providers and match those fees with money from federal Medicaid payments to pay for more inspectors and rule changes for dangerous persons being treated in the nursing homes.

If the law's provisions go into effect as planned, the residents of Illinois nursing homes and community-supportive housing units will hopefully lead safer and more fulfilling lives.

If you or a loved one has been injured or abused while living in a nursing home, please contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer to protect your rights.

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