North Side hospital called ‘house of horrors’ in lawsuit over treatment of DCFS children

The federal lawsuit lists abuse victims as young as 7 and 8.

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Chicago Lakeshore Hospital in Uptown

The Cook County public guardian filed suit in federal court Wednesday on behalf of seven children who claim they were abused at Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital in the Uptown neighborhood. | File photo.

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Aurora Chicago Lakeshore Hospital on the North Side was supposed to be a safe place for some of the state’s most vulnerable children to receive psychiatric care.

Instead, the Uptown facility became a “hospital of horrors” for children “subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse,” according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in Chicago

“These children were the most vulnerable kids in the city of Chicago .... They went to a hospital simply to be treated for the severe issues that they were suffering,” attorney Scott R. Drury said. “And instead, what they received was sexual assault — not only by the other patients there, but by the staff.”

Drury is one of the West Loop attorneys who filed the suit on behalf of the seven children and Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, lists a number of defendants, including several state Department of Children and Family Services administrators and employees at the hospital.

The claims of abuse were detailed in a series of stories by ProPublica in 2018.

“DCFS is committed to protecting the children of Illinois and providing the best possible services to the children in our care. We take seriously any allegations of abuse and have not allowed children to be placed at Lakeshore Hospital since2018,” the agency said in an emailed statement.

The agency said it has hired more than 300 additional staff since April and “begun to make dramatic improvements to overcome the challenges that have plagued the department for decades.”

The hospital said it defend itself “using facts rather than the egregious distortion that has been portrayed before the press.”

“It is tragic that the Cook County Public Guardian chooses to malign health care providers instead of addressing the root of this statewide crisis: a lack of state funding which prevents children from getting appropriate care at the right time and in the right place,” Chicago Lakeshore Hospital CEO Patricia McClure-Chessier said in a statement.

“This problem is beyond the control of Chicago Lakeshore Hospital. Illinois already faces a severe shortage of mental health care providers and driving more out of business only serves to exacerbate the problem instead of solving it.”

The youngest of those abused was only 7 years, the suit claims. The children, all wards of the state, were sent to Lakeshore Hospital between 2017 and 2018 because DCFS had, according to the suit, “worn out its welcome at other Chicagoland psychiatric hospitals ....”

Among other claims, one patient was “repeatedly sexually assaulted by” a hospital nurse after the nurse showed the girl “pornographic videos of women engaging in sexual activity with each other,” according to the lawsuit.

Another victim, just 7 years old, was “forced to perform oral sex on his older roommate,” the suit states.

Staff physically assaulted another patient “by injecting her with a powerful sedative both when she had done nothing wrong and after staff had taunted her in an effort to get her to misbehave so they could inject her with the sedative,” according to the suit.

In addition, due to a lack of proper supervision, several patients were able to escape from the hospital, with some “missing for several months,” the suit states.

“What’s perhaps most shocking is that DCFS knew of all of the problems and all of the abuses at this hospital of horrors,” Golbert said. “However, DCFS did nothing to protect the children. To the contrary, DCFS conspired with Chicago Lakeshore Hospital to cover up the horrific abuses so that it could continue to place children at this hospital.”

According to the suit, DCFS placed “improper weight on the denials of any misconduct by Chicago Lakeshore Hospital staff.”

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