Staffing shortages blamed for sexual abuse at psych hospitals

Recent studies have shown that nursing shortages can lead to higher injury and mortality rates, and a new one by the University of Iowa shows another dark side to chronic understaffing--sexual abuse.

Too few nurses and inadequate supervision led to more than four substantiated cases of youths being sexually abused by their peers at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital in the past three years, according to a report on the UIC study in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. The UIC study says it was common for one staff member to monitor as many as 15 to 22 patients at a time.

The Tribune has uncovered another 18 cases of reported rape or assault at six other psychiatric facilities in the Chicago area.

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) officials commissioned and released the UIC study in an attempt to address a specific group of patients, namely indigent patients cared for at private hospitals, but whose care is paid for by the state. Officials indicate they often are hampered by conflicting laws concerning these patients' care.

Lakeshore officials have objected to the report in an 11-page comment letter, citing the study as too small and too focused on a limited group of incidents. One major bone of contention, the Tribune reports, are claims in the report about possible problems at other hospitals owned by the same parent company, Signature Healthcare Services in Michigan.

DCFS officials indicate they are working with Lakeshore to monitor its ongoing compliance measures.

To learn more:
- read the Chicago Tribune article
- check out Bloomberg BusinessWeek coverage
- see the WGN News story