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Patient Notifies Illinois That Chicago Hospital Has Mice

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Jun. 4--The state Health Department said Tuesday it has plans to investigate a patient complaint, made nearly three months ago, about a mouse infestation at Jackson Park Hospital.

A state health official said the complaint was filed March 11, but the department has not yet visited the hospital. An unannounced inspection of the South Side facility will be conducted soon, said Enrique Unanue, deputy director of the Health Department.

The revelation follows allegations made at Tuesday's Cook County Board meeting by Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who said he saw mice inside the hospital on two recent occasions while visiting a patient.

"It was deplorable," said Maldonado, who is a psychologist. "These mice were so comfortable, they wouldn't move if you chased them."

Board President John Stroger, in whose ward the hospital is located, downplayed the seriousness of Maldonado's allegation, contending that all large buildings have problems with vermin.

"I think that hospital is as clean as most hospitals. There were mice and roaches at County [Hospital]," he said, adding the board should not spend its time "beating up" on institutions and instead focus on other issues.

But an official of a national hospital accreditation group based in Oakbrook Terrace said a mouse infestation would be a serious problem at any hospital because of diseases that could be spread by the rodents.

"We don't write standards around that issue. Not having mice is as fundamental as a hospital having running water," said Charlene Hill, spokeswoman for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations.

Maldonado's concern is that the county has a contract with Jackson Park to provide mental health services not offered at the new Stroger Hospital, named for the County Board president.

"It's not right for our patients to be referred to a hospital like that," said Maldonado. He called for better examination of records before teaming up with hospitals.

Margo Brooks, vice president of the hospital, said the complaints about mice are not the first Jackson Park has received.

"It happens. This is a large place and people leave out cookies and stuff," she said, adding it is a situation faced by any large institution. To combat the problem, Brooks said the hospital has contracted with a pest-control service to do routine maintenance.

Each year, the state gets as many as 900 complaints about hospitals ranging from problems with fluctuating room temperature to gripes about specific nurses, said Unanue. He could not say whether rodent infestation was a common complaint.

Though state inspectors have not visited Jackson Park to check out the alleged mouse problem in the time since the complaint was lodged, Unanue said such a delay was not unusual. "It's a long process and we deal with lots of complaints," he said.

Once a complaint is called or mailed in to the Health Department, it first must wend its way through local and federal screening processes before an on-site investigation may take place, Unanue said.

For Maldonado, the investigation can't come soon enough.

"Mental health patients, all patients, deserve the utmost in hygiene and sanitary conditions when they go to a hospital we recommend," he said.

Tribune staff reporter Celeste Garrett contributed to this report.


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(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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