A report by Illinois health authorities found a south suburban hospital had “deficiencies” in its handling of a baby that had been cut from his mother’s womb, including its lack of communication internally and with police potentially putting patients “at risk for harm.”
Despite those findings, the hospital will not be penalized or lose federal funding, officials said in a decision that angered the family of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez — the expectant mother who was strangled in April and whose son was ripped from her womb. The family said Tuesday the report failed to hold the hospital accountable.
”It’s garbage. It’s garbage and I tear it up,” family attorney Frank Avila said as he ripped up a summary of the report in front of the Gold Coast offices of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), which made public the results of its report.
Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert also believes the hospital “dropped the ball” and charged it with violating social work norms, state laws and common sense.
The hospital, Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, has been under fire since last month after it didn’t notify police or the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) for more than two weeks that a woman showing “no signs consistent with a woman who had just delivered a baby” walked in with a brain-damaged newborn, claiming to be the boy’s mother.
The IDPH launched the investigation in May after it was discovered that Clarisa Figueroa, the 46-year-old woman who had stayed in the hospital and posed as the newborn’s mother, had allegedly killed Ochoa-Lopez, the real mother, and cut the baby from her womb.
Figueroa’s 24-year-old daughter, Desiree, also faces murder charges in the death of Ochoa-Lopez. Desiree’s boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, is charged with concealing a homicide.
An IDPH spokeswoman said Tuesday that after both a federal and state review of the matter, the hospital was cited “for a violation related to internal communication with hospital staff. The hospital has since taken action to resolve this violation and is now in compliance with state and federal regulations.”
Christ Medical Center officials wrote in a statement that the investigation “showed the medical care provided and actions taken by our staff were appropriate. Nevertheless, we are committed to learning from the experience to improve processes.”
After strangling Ochoa-Lopez on April 23, Figueroa called 911 and was transported to the hospital, where she told medical staff that the baby was hers, authorities have said.
Two weeks later, on May 8, police arrived at the hospital and began to piece together the gruesome tale following a tip they received from one of Ochoa-Lopez’s friends that the pregnant woman had met Figueroa in a Facebook group and arranged to buy baby clothes from her.
Despite the potential signs that Figueroa was not the mother, a “mandated reporter” —professionals who work with children who are required by law to report suspected abuse — did not notify DCFS about the newborn or his condition until the day after police showed up, DCFS spokesman Jassen Strokosch said.
That day, a doctor walked into the office of a hospital social worker and asked, “Should this mother be making decisions on the baby because it may not be the baby’s mother?” according to the IDPH report.
DCFS took the baby into custody the same day.
Although doctors, social workers, nurses and a chaplain were informed by police about the investigation and resulting DNA test that showed Figueroa was not the mother, the hospital’s chief medical officer claimed top administrators and the hospital’s office of public safety remained in the dark until seeing news reports about the matter.
”No one from the administration or a public safety officer knew that the CPD was in the building interviewing staff. ... We heard about it in the news that a warrant for arrest had been issued,” the unnamed medical officer told state health investigators.
The report found the hospital’s lack of communication potentially puts patients “at risk for harm.”
Yet despite the “deficiencies” noted in the report, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found the hospital was in “substantial compliance” with Medicare Conditions of Participation and will continue to be reimbursed for services.
Family asks for new investigation
Avila called for the head of the IDPH to step down and for a new “unbiased” investigation, questioning how doctors who examined the woman posing as the mother didn’t recognize the falsity of her claim. He wondered why more weight wasn’t put on the fact that that her shirt was bloody, but not her shorts, when she first came into the hospital.
Ochoa-Lopez’s husband, Yovani, stood behind Avila and held the couple’s toddler son. His infant who was ripped from his wife’s womb was left brain dead and died Thursday.
No upgraded murder charges have been filed since the death of the infant, who was named Yovanny. A private funeral for baby Yovanny is planned for Thursday in the Chicago area.
The family of Ochoa-Lopez has yet to file a lawsuit against Christ Medical Center, said Avila, who acknowledged he’s in settlement negotiations with attorneys representing the hospital.
The Cook County sheriff’s office, meanwhile, does not have an open investigation into the hospital and does not plan to launch one, an office spokeswoman said.
On May 20, the sheriff’s office said it was questioning whether the hospital violated the Abuse and Neglected Children Reporting Act (ANCRA) by failing to notify child protection authorities about the situation, but ultimately let state officials “take the lead” with an investigation, office spokeswoman Cara Smith said at the time.
On Tuesday, after the state investigation’s findings were made public, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sophia Ansari wrote in an email that the office “wanted to ensure that an investigation took place if there was concern” of wrongdoing, “and it appears that’s what happened.” However, state officials say they did not investigate potential violations of the abuse reporting act.
‘Just common sense’
Golbert, the public guardian tasked with serving as the attorney and advocate for abused and neglected children and disabled adults — said he believes the hospital violated state law and social work norms in its handling of the case.
Since the infant had a caring father and supportive family, and the alleged abuse was not done by a family member, Golbert said the case would not have involved his office. But as an expert on child abuse laws and social work, Golbert said the hospital should have handled things differently from the start.
”Just common sense, when this happens, you call the police and you call the child abuse hotline right away,” Golbert said. “If you were to talk to people in the shopping mall or the tavern down the street or wherever, 10 out of 10 people you ask — without social work training, without training on compliance with ANCRA — will tell you that that’s what you do.
”The hospital does nothing for weeks, and that violated state law, that violated social work norms and it violated every notion of common sense,” Golbert charged. “They dropped the ball. And if they didn’t violate any requirements for Medicaid reimbursement, then I say shame on the requirements governing Medicaid reimbursement.”