By Jean Lotus
Forest Park emergency personnel repeatedly asked what happened to the 47-year-old suicide victim who was found hanging at Riveredge Hospital the early morning of June 8, but hospital staff were not forthcoming, documents obtained by Forest Park Review show.
The Village of Forest Park denied the Review's FOIA request in June for reports pertaining to the death investigation of the Buffalo Grove woman at Riveredge, citing patient privacy. But last week the village released the reports after the State's Attorney's office overturned the FOIA denial.
In the reports of the Forest Park police death investigation June 18-19, ambulance drivers and paramedics told police they arrived at the hospital and staff escorted them to the patient's room, No. 212, "without a sense of urgency."
Paramedics told police investigators the patient was laying on the floor, with staff performing CPR on her. The patient was hooked up to an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) device.
One paramedic told police he asked staff "several times" what had happened and did not receive an answer or explanation. This paramedic said he rode to the Loyola University Medical Center Emergency Room with an employee from Riveredge in the front seat of the ambulance who never spoke to the ambulance driver nor explained what happened. A second paramedic also told police investigators that Riveredge staff did not say what had happened to the patient.
Forest Park police also interviewed staff from Riveredge, in the presence of Sheila Orr, Riveredge chief nursing officer and staff lawyer. The staff interviews appeared to contradict the EMT statements. When questioned, two staff members said fire and ambulance personnel were informed that the woman had been hanging by the neck. One female nurse interviewed said she rode with the ambulance drivers and upon arrival heard paramedics tell ER staff the woman had been found "unresponsive on the floor." The nurse told police she saw ER staff were "moving the patient without a neck brace or particular concern for her neck." The nurse said she told ER staff that the patient had been found hanging by the neck.
The patient was declared brain-dead and kept alive so that her organs could be harvested, her mother from Janesville, Wisc. told Forest Park Review in September. She was taken off life support and declared dead June 12.
State regulators, also investigating June 18-19 found Riveredge to have put the patient in danger of "Immediate Jeopardy" by putting her in a room with a seven-foot ceiling and a fan vent with horizontal slats through which the woman threaded a bedsheet to hang herself.
The hospital had been told to replace the grilles facility-wide because they presented a "ligature hazard." The hospital had started to replace them between 2007 and 2008.
Investigators from the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services ordered 40 patients removed from rooms with 34 slat-style grilles until they were replaced by a circular grille with a mesh screen affixed with tamper-resistant screws.
Carey Carlock, CEO of Riveredge, ordered all remaining ceiling vent covers replaced with the mesh grille, a report from the Illinois Dept. of Health and Human Safety said.
Because the grilles were modified quickly, an Illinois Department of Public Health investigation cleared Riveredge of the condition of Immediate Jeopardy July 11, said spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
Arnold said the Illinois Dept. of Public Health standard practice is that emergency personnel should be informed of any medical conditions of a patient when they are being transported from a facility.
"If someone made a complaint we would look at the process for how the facility handles an emergency situation if we did an investigation on their behalf."
After being questioned by the Review June 18, Carlock emailed a statement from the hospital.
"The management and staff of Riveredge Hospital are deeply saddened by the loss of one of its patients and extends its heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the patient's family," the statement said.
"Due to strict patient confidentiality and privacy laws, the hospital is precluded from discussing the specific details of any individual case."
"Riveredge remains fully dedicated and committed to its mission of providing the highest quality of care to patients with special, and sometimes complex, mental health needs," the hospital's statement concluded.