Editor's note: This article has been revised and updated to include comment from the Cook County Sheriff's Office, and to clarify the nature of the legal action.
Loyola University Medical Center has filed suit against Cook County and Cook County Sheriff, saying the apparent refusal by the county's health care system to take custody of an inmate who has been kept under guard at Loyola UMC since April has turned the hospital essentially into an unwilling auxiliary of the Cook County Jail.
On July 11, the hospital in Maywood filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the county and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and his office, asserting the county's and sheriff’s office’s actions amount to an illegal seizure of the hospital’s resources and have cost the hospital more than $500,000 in unreimbursed medical bills and other expenses.
“By refusing to remove the detainee from the hospital premises, the County has essentially seized Loyola’s private property and turned it into a de facto prison infirmary ward,” the hospital wrote in its complaint.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart
According to the complaint, the sheriff’s office allegedly brought the inmate, identified in the complaint only as “the detainee,” to Loyola UMC in mid-April, shortly after picking up the inmate on outstanding warrants immediately after the unidentified inmate was released from the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections in Dixon.
According to the complaint, the inmate “has a history of self-harm,” noting in the past, the inmate had “destroyed jail property and assaulted a jail guard.”
According to the complaint, the sheriff’s office attempted to transport the inmate by private ambulance from the Dixon Correctional Center to the county’s Cermak Health Services facility in Chicago. The Cermak facility provides a range of health care, including mental health services, to the county jail’s inmates, according to Cermak’s website.
However, while en route to Cermak, the complaint asserts Cermak personnel informed sheriff’s office personnel that Cermak would not accept or admit this inmate, and directed sheriff’s deputies to take the inmate to Loyola’s emergency department.
Upon arrival, the complaint said “Loyola’s medical personnel in its Emergency Department evaluated the Detainee, provided the reasonable and necessary medical services to the Detainee, and determined that there was no medical need requiring hospital admission.”
Loyola discharged the inmate on April 11.
However, the complaint asserts the sheriff’s office has refused requests from Loyola to remove the inmate, and has kept the inmate shackled and under guard at all hours.
Further, the hospital said it has been compelled, “because of the Detainee’s history of self-harm,” to keep the inmate under continuous observation “by a rotating team of patient care technicians whose sole job is to remain in the hospital room and observe the Detainee at all times.”
Last month, Loyola said it “temporarily admitted” the inmate from June 4-June 25, but discharged him to outpatient status.
“… But the County still will not remove him from the Hospital Premises,” the complaint said.
In the ensuing weeks, Loyola said it has sparred with officials at the county’s health facilities, over the inmate’s nutrition and medication. Loyola asserted it has met the county’s demands, including weaning the inmate “to a reduced schedule of oral opioid medication,” which, Loyola said, it believed could be maintained in an outpatient setting.
And in early July, the hospital said, the inmate assaulted hospital staff, threatening to break the neck of a hospital worker, and threatening to return to the hospital and kill Loyola staff and clinicians.
The hospital is asking the court to declare the county’s actions to be an illegal seizure of hospital property and resources, and to order the county to remove the inmate and reimburse the hospital for its expenses.
Loyola is represented in the matter by attorneys Denise A. Lazar and Christine E. Skoczylas, of the firm of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, of Chicago.
A representative of the Cook County Sheriff's Office said the sheriff's office has remained "ready, willing and able" to remove the inmate from Loyola, but has been stymied by Cermak and the county's health and hospital system, who have "refused to accept his case."
"We've been actively advocating to get him back since he was first discharged in April," said Cara Smith, Chief Policy Officer for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. "This is a big deal to us, and it's been very frustrating."