Activists protested Monday afternoon outside of a Rogers Park nursing home where numerous disabled children and young adults have died in recent years.
Toting signs reading "Kids need love not nursing homes," about 20 disability rights advocates with the group Access Living demanded that the troubled facility now called Alden Village North shut its doors for good. The activists, who staged a similar protest against the facility in September, also stressed the need for more community-based supports for people with disabilities.
"We believe that no child with a disability should be in a nursing home, but if they have to exist, this is not one here that should" remain open, said Gary Arnold, public relations coordinator at Access Living.
The Alden Village North facility, located at 7464 North Sheridan Road, cares for children and young adults with severe disabilities. Between 2000 and 2010, the state cited the nursing home, which has had different owners over the years, for the deaths of 13 children and young adults in cases involving neglect or other violations, according to a 2010 Chicago Tribune investigation. In a follow-up report this year, the newspaper found that the state cited Alden Village North for five more deaths between 2009 and 2013. Alden Village North belongs to the Alden nursing home chain, which acquired the facility in 2008.
Following the Tribune's 2010 investigation, state officials attempted to close the North Side facility in 2011, but they were unable to do so due to a legal technicality.
"The state had an opportunity to shut down a nursing home that has this long record of abuse toward people with disabilities, specifically toward children with disabilities," Arnold said. "The state lost its opportunity, and ... we want to put the pressure back on both the nursing home, Alden Village North, as well as the state to take steps again to do the right thing and make sure this nursing home is closed."
Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, issued the following statement on Tuesday to Progress Illinois:
The health and safety of residents at Alden Village North, as with all nursing homes, are a priority and the state will continue to closely monitor Alden Village North and conduct annual inspections and complaint investigations. While the facility has been cited for violations over the past couple of years, the ultimate results of those violations did not rise to the level of license revocation. Health and safety conditions currently found at the facility during its most recent inspections are improved compared to the facility's substantial failure to comply with state regulations in 2008 and 2009 and license revocation is not currently being sought. However, if we do find the care, health and safety of residents is being compromised, the Department will consider the facility's past record when determining disciplinary action.
Messages left with Alden Village North were not returned.
Activists, meanwhile, noted that people of all ages with all types of disabilities can live in the community with the right supports.
"A commitment has been made [by the state] to rebalance and move services away from institutions into the community, but more needs to be done," stressed Arnold, with Access Living. "There are hundreds of people in Chicago and thousands across the state who are still in institutions who very well could be in the community now."
Tom Wilson, community development organizer for health care at Access Living, said "forcing children to be in an institution" like Alden Village North "where they don't get the love and care that would get in a family setting" is a "form of discrimination and oppression."
"I think that some people would definitely say (the nursing home has) improved, but no improvement is enough in this sense that they need to be with families and in real homes," he said. "And an institution is still an institution."
Here's more from Wilson and scenes from the protest:
"Kids don't deserve to be institutionalized," added Michael Grice, who previously lived in a nursing home and recently transitioned to community-based home care.
"They deserve to be in warm, loving homes with the supports that they need, as well as adults," he continued. "Too many kids have died here at Alden in the last 14 years, and they must put an end to this, because I know, and everybody here knows, that the kids here are not getting the proper care that they deserve."