Just before Jeff Kelly Lowenstein’s 2009 nursing home investigation hit the press, the story became all too real with the sudden death of an elderly African-American man named Bennie.
Bennie Saxon, an 84-year-old with dementia, fell from a four-story window at Alden Wentworth Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Greater Grand Crossing on the city’s South Side.
Business practices at the facility, owned by Floyd Schlossberg, exemplified what was wrong with Chicago’s nursing homes. Nursing Home Compare, the federal data portal that rates all Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes, gave the highest grades to two of Schlossberg’s homes with a majority-white population in 2009, Kelly Lowenstein found. But Schlossberg’s majority-black homes, including Alden Wentworth, received failing grades.
Schlossberg’s nursing homes were symbols of a larger, systemic issue in Chicago: Seniors in majority-black nursing homes were receiving inferior care, compared with their majority-white counterparts.
Kelly Lowenstein examined the records of 15,724 nursing homes rated by Nursing Home Compare and found that more than half of all majority-black nursing homes in Chicago received the worst possible rating, but only 11 percent of majority-white homes shared the same fate.
Statewide, only one majority-black nursing home received the best rating. Majority-white homes also employed more registered nurses than majority-black homes.
Shortly after the Reporter’s story broke, the Chicago Tribune published a series examining the state of nursing homes in Illinois. It found that nursing-home residents faced the threat of serious harm, sometimes even death, when housed with mentally ill felons.
The Reporter’s investigation and the Tribune’s findings were later used by state lawmakers to reform Illinois’ nursing home industry.
Starting in January 2013, all facilities are required to provide at least 3.4 hours a day of nursing and personal care to every resident who needs it. And any reported resident abuse or neglect must be relayed to the owner of the facility within 24 hours.
For Kelly Lowenstein, one of the most memorable aspects of his investigation is that it inspired the elderly to protest for their own rights. “To me, it was inspiring to see these black seniors and just seniors in general Ö sticking up for people like them and people in the same situation,” he said.