A thorough review of the Illinois Bureau of Long-Term Care is being conducted after the department failed to properly process and investigate abuse and neglect complaints at facilities for about three months during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The state’s Department of Public Health announced the independent ‘top to bottom’ investigation Friday. Officials there recently discovered that the agency delayed its investigations for abuse and neglect complaints from about March 15 to June 30, 2020.

The department has since conducted complaint investigations for the 272 allegations that were received during that time frame — with 17 of those complaints substantiated, officials said. 

Federal and state regulations require the department to conduct surveys in response to allegations of abuse and neglect at long-term care facilities  — even during the pandemic when certain stipulations were suspended  — within 24 hours for the most serious complaints, and within seven days for all other complaints. 

“Our top priority as a regulator of long-term care facilities in Illinois is ensuring vulnerable Illinoisans are kept safe by those responsible for their care,” IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike, MD, said in a statement. 

“Anything short of that is unacceptable, and our entire department is committed to getting this right as we move forward,” Ezike added. 

The state noted that federal guidance has called on some long-term care regulator operations to be scaled back in order to minimize the number of people entering facilities in order to reduce residents’ risk of contracting COVID-19. The federal government suspended routine inspections in March to exclusively focus on Immediate Jeopardy situations and infection control inspections. Last week, federal officials announced the resumption of routine inspections.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials stated that regardless of the federal guidance “Illinois law that requires abuse and neglect complaints to be reviewed within certain timeframes was not suspended and IDPH personnel did not complete reviews of allegations of abuse and neglect in a timely manner between approximately March 15 and June 30.” 

“Additionally, IDPH did not meet state deadlines for conducting those surveys, in part because of improper classifications of some complaints,” the agency explained. 

The move also comes about one month after the head of the Office of Health Care Regulation, which oversees the Bureau of Long-Term Care, was fired. The state also placed its top nursing home regulator on indefinite paid leave.