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Cook County, Illinois

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Kristina Labanauskas
Kristina Labanauskas
Contributor •

Nursing Homes & Felons: A Dangerous Mix

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Mentally ill criminals and others on society’s fringes housed in nursing homes pose a threat to other residents, especially if they are not carefully assessed, treated and monitored.

In January, 21-year-old Christopher Shelton allegedly raped a 69-year-old woman in her own room. Both were residents at Maplewood Care in Elgin, one of 13 nursing facilities in which Bryan Barrish and Michael Giannini, longtime nursing home executives, have either an ownership stake or consulting role.


Those facilities hold just over 2 percent of the state’s nursing home population, the most recent state records show, but they include nearly 10 percent of Illinois’ mentally ill nursing home patients and, as of June, almost 6 percent of the 3,000 felons living in the state’s nursing facilities.

Shelton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been shuttled between jail cells, psychiatric wards and shelters until nursing facilities became home. After being paroled from prison for a 2004 aggravated battery conviction, Shelton continued down a destructive path. He was arrested at least half-dozen times more, and in 2008 he was arrested three more times on alleged offenses including punching a man in the face at a West Chicago nursing home in which he was living. In November of last year, he requested to be readmitted to Maplewood Care in Elgin, where he had lived earlier in 2008 until he was removed and jailed on prior battery charges.

According to a state health department investigation, Maplewood did not adequately check Shelton’s criminal background. However, Barrish and Giannini said the facilities assign professionals to thoroughly assess the risks that younger mentally ill criminals may pose to other residents and don’t admit anyone considered a danger to others.

In late June, Maplewood Care held 15 felons among its roughly 200 residents.

About half the population was younger than 65, and more than 40 percent had a primary diagnosis of mental illness, according to the most recent figures on the state public health department’s Web site.

Shelton now awaits trial on charges of aggravated criminal sexual assault. The woman no longer lives at Maplewood.