This blog: more to the story

“Troubled Nursing Home is Losing Federal Money” reads the headline in the Chicago Tribune, February 5th, 2010.  This decision was given to the facility administration itself that same day, at 4 p.m., bringing to conclusion a long campaign by the Tribune and Alderman Mary Smith against the facility.  They were successful.  The facility was de-certified.  The place is now swarmed with workers from the state to find new homes for some three hundred plus residents.

If you read the Tribune, you will definitely believe this is a victory for the social welfare of the chronically mentally ill in Illinois.  Like some bureaucratic spaghetti western, the owners and administration of Somerset are villains and the Tribune and state and federal regulatory agencies heroes.  But you can’t always believe what you read.  The lurid, sensational reports in the Tribune not only distort the truth creating a politically useful fiction for Ald. Smith but, more profoundly, gloss over the real story: the remarkably poor treatment of the mentally ill in the state of Illinois.  As a result, readers can cheer that greedy, calloused owners—the bad guys—have finally been shot and will no longer be able to exploit the mentally ill and recklessly endanger the community.  Unfortunately, it is a lie.  They have accomplished nothing, except to finally rid the uptown neighborhood of the property-devaluing presence of a large facility housing the mentally ill.  The service provision and funding systems that provide services to the mentally ill have not changed. They are merely shuffling people around, putting on a show.  Though notably, Ald. Smith has rid her ward of a chronic nuisance in the process.

So what has been accomplished?  Well, over three hundred residents will abruptly be uprooted and moved.  Any move, even planned and voluntary, can be stressful in anyone’s life, without the challenge of mental illness.  In this instance, these residents have no choice.  And worse, they will have little say in where they go.  Their choices are extremely limited.  Some of them have lived in Somerset for 15-20 years. This is their home and they are being summarily removed, purportedly for “their own best interests”.  In some cases, they may land in places that improve their lives.  In other cases, the move may cause disruption, hardship and initiate a downward spiral.  The only way to know is to follow each and every one over the next year and see whether, in fact, the closure of Somerset really was in the residents’ best interests.  It is an empirical question.  If Somerset were an aberration in an otherwise wonderful network of mental health care in Illinois, I might be optimistic.  However, it is not.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire, I fear. Thoreau might well have said “If I knew the State of Illinois were coming up the road to do me good, I should run for my life.” Will the Tribune or the State follow up to determine the outcome of this action on the many lives affected? Or will they stop, self-servingly, with the cartoon ending, ‘we got the bad guy.’

The problem with caricatures—and the Tribune series is a caricature of investigative reporting— is that simplicity arises at the cost of truth.  And when truth goes, we are left with a fictive world of one-dimensional villains and lurid images.  And these can be easily manipulated to further different agendas, the plight of the mentally ill in Illinois only marginally among them.

The story of Somerset is not a simple bad-guy, good-guy story where the good-guy won.  Who are the villains and who the heroes is not entirely clear.  Somerset was far from perfect, but equally far from the squalid hellhole the Tribune portrays.  The owners and employees were not all saints, but they weren’t devils either.  The story of the demise of Somerset is one that can only be understood from multiple perspectives, allowing a complexity excluded by Tribune’s cartoon portrayal of the world.  That more complex story deserves, needs to be told.

This blog is devoted to telling the story of Somerset from multiple perspectives.  Ideally, I would like to compile reflections and comments from everyone possible, including staff, residents, administration, owners, neighbors, state and federal surveyors and, even, the Tribune.  Though the Tribune has clearly already told its story, it has yet to be held accountable for the quality and integrity of its reporting.  The first series posted will be a careful and critical review of the Tribune’s entire investigative series.  Not intended to represent a single viewpoint, contributions are invited (see ‘Submissions’ for details).

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5 responses to “This blog: more to the story

  1. To clarify, where possible the residents are being given a choice. The problem is that the available placements are limited, effectively reducing their options. The lower functioning residents that present greater risk behaviors will generally be avoided by other facilities. Their options are even more restricted. These residents are not scanning craigslist housing ads asking, ‘hm, where do I want to live?’ In the end, ‘choices’ for most of them will be illusory.

  2. Marlon Holcomb

    Today is 2/24/10 (Moving Day). This is turning into a nightmare. To actually see residents who have no family and are being seperated from the only people that they have in their lives is very sad to see. I fear for the mental well-being of all of the residents here at Somerset Place.

  3. Hilda Derzsy

    Day one our residents are moving! It still feels so unreal. Is this really happening? I’m still waiting for someone to say, oops the facility’s not closing we made a mistake. I can’t help but think, what is everyone thinking? To the representatives from HFS, DMH, IDPH and the other agencies, in the facility, are you not seeing the same things I am? Are each of you not questioning and asking yourselves,” is this the facility that was portrayed by the Tribune, CMS and IDPH surveyors as providing substandard care?” Really! I’m speechless and heartbroken for our residents.

  4. Maria Douvris

    It’s amazing that during these past 3 weeks while HFS, IDPH and other agencies have been in the facility talking to all the residents about relocation, the residents have been attentive, cordial, concerned and many other things, but never violent, or out of control as portrayed in the trib or regulatory reports, repeatedly.
    Why is this?
    Did the residents do a 360 within 2 days of the survey on 2/5/10.. I think not.. That is why staff, residents and families are scratching our heads asking, “what is really going on”. And why Somerset Place?

  5. Maria Douvris

    Continuity of Care, important or not?

    There are several factors taken into consideration as residents are being relocated to various facilities. All of which do not include the residents physician. Many of the residents are being relocated to facilities that their physician does not visit.
    I know we, the general public, tend to follow our physicians, i.e. when our insurance is changed or our physician moves to a different location. We do this because we like our physician, we trust them and they know our history and are managing our care to our liking. So why is it that the state is not taking this important factor of the residents physician into consideration? After all they follow their physicians for the same reasons we do. Most of these residents have had a relationship with their physicians for decades. They have chosen over the years to be cared for by their physician. Why is a residents physician so irrelevant now? Many residents currently will not only have to adjust to a new home but also a new physician.

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