The Evanston Police Department received 113 nonemergency and 911 calls over a recent 10-week period from Albany Care, an Evanston mental health facility that treats individuals with mental illnesses. Most of the calls regarded missing persons, battery and theft, reflecting concerns voiced by neighbors of the facility, located at 901 Maple Ave.
The facility, which currently houses 300 residents but can house up to 417, is regulated and licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Albany Care’s website promises “an environment conducive to recovery.” However, individuals living at Albany Care complain of a culture of neglect, disorganization and unprofessionalism. They say the facility is understaffed and doesn’t provide sufficient care to all its residents.
Located near Grey Park in the 4th Ward, Albany Care has recently gained the attention of its neighbors, who say they worry that the facility is connected to an uptick in aggressive and antisocial behavior in the area.
While neighbors worry about safety outside the facility, data from the Evanston Police Department indicates that these concerns are felt within the facility as well.
Frequent police calls
According to data the RoundTable recently acquired, the police received 113 nonemergency and 911 calls from within the facility between Sept. 19 and Nov. 30, an average of 1½ times a day.
In recent years, this volume of calls is not unusual for the facility. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 19, the police received 281 calls from Albany Care. In 2020, the police received 506 calls, and in 2019, it received 334. This is significantly higher than the number of calls received in 2018 and 2017, which totaled 124 and 100, consecutively.
Looking at the 113 calls made recently, 40 were classified as missing person calls. According to the Illinois Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities Code, Albany Care must file a report every time a resident is missing for more than 24 hours, and this involves a call to the police.
Of the other calls, the police classified 12 as battery, six as theft or robbery, six as involuntary committal and four as well-being checks. One call involved a sex-offense investigation and another was for indecent exposure.
Fourth Ward City Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma said he wants to work with Albany Care to help improve the quality of life inside and outside the facility. He is active on a Grey Park Community Facebook page and has been hosting community meetings, at which he provides updates.
In October, Albany Care responded to the concerns raised by Nieuwsma and the community with a plan of engagement, which outlined commitments the facility said it will make to its residents and the neighborhood. One of the commitments involved the hiring of a new executive director, Stacy Seals, who started Oct. 25.
Seals responded to the RoundTable’s inquiries about staffing levels and whether the needs of the residents are met. “We at Albany Care meet the needs of our residents and have adequate medical, psychiatric and support staff,” she said in a statement.
The RoundTable interviewed three residents at Albany Care. Each of them disagreed with Seals’ statement and complained of inadequate staff levels, mistreatment of residents and inconsistent administration of medications.
Getting ‘worse and worse and worse’
Peter Basquin has lived in Albany Care for more than 2½ years and said the facility has changed drastically since his arrival.
“It’s gotten worse,” said Basquin. “Every day it gets worse and worse and worse.” He said when he first arrived, he enjoyed spending time in Grey Park, and he felt respected by the administrators. Now, Basquin avoids the park due to frequent drug use there, and he doesn’t feel safe inside the facility. Basquin, who is Asian, said there are staff members who have harassed and racially profiled the residents, himself included.
Basquin said he believes a change occurred within the facility shortly before the pandemic when it started accepting individuals on probation or parole.
One case manager, who requested anonymity, represents individuals in mental health facilities including Albany Care and also works with several such facilities in Illinois. She said that many such places treat their residents poorly. According to clients she has served at Albany Care, the facility’s administrators are “very unresponsive and dismissive.”
S.I.R. Management, Albany Care’s consultant organization, provides services for many Illinois mental health facilities, including Greenwood Care,1406 Chicago Ave.
In a statement to the RoundTable responding to this claim, S.I.R. Management Senior Vice President Megan Marker wrote, “Each facility that we consult for is individually owned and responsible for the care that they provide.”
S.I.R. Management stands by the healthcare decisions made by the individual facilities, Marker wrote. Though some clients face difficult challenges during their recovery, S.I.R. Management hears success stories on a daily basis about residents who have returned to normal lives after leaving a mental health facility, she added.
“The care and wellbeing of the residents at every facility that we consult for is our highest priority,” Marker wrote.
The case manager said Albany Care stands out from the other S.I.R. Management facilities because it is so much bigger. It is important that the facility’s residents have a place to live, and for that reason, Albany Care plays a crucial role, the case manager said. Without the facility, these individuals might be homeless, she added. However, the facility needs to do its job properly and provide its residents with appropriate care, she said.
“The staff needs to be better trained,” said the case manager. “And they need to be more actively engaged with each resident.”
Another advocate for individuals in long-term care facilities, who also requested anonymity, was particularly concerned with the administration of medicine at Albany Care. A geriatric care manager, she primarily works with nursing homes, though one of her longtime clients is a resident who has lived at Albany Park for 23 years.
Since mid-October, the administering of medicine has been inconsistent at times, said the geriatric care manager. She said she believes this is due to a nursing shortage after some nurses quit that month. In addition, there is currently no Director of Nursing, although the facility has identified an individual who will assume that position at an unknown date.
Basquin also said he thinks there aren’t enough nurses in the facility, and that’s why residents sometimes are given their medication at odd times.
Marker, the S.I.R. Management social worker, spoke about staffing levels at a Dec. 8 4th Ward meeting. She said the facility meets the staffing standards set by the Illinois Department of Public Health, which are determined using a formula involving the number of residents, and the care they need. The formula is detailed in the Illinois SMHRF Code, which outlines the standards facilities must follow.
Marker added despite meeting state health standards, the facility has been trying to fill vacancies for the past year and a half, and salary rates have been raised twice within the last six months.
A statement written by the city of Evanston’s Community Services Manager Audrey Thompson and shared with the RoundTable on Nov. 28 stated that the Evanston Health and Human Services Department was unable to confirm how many nurses are in the building. “However, we question whether staffing levels are adequate to really meet the needs of the consumers [residents],” the statement read.
Basquin said he is afraid to speak up about Albany Care for fear of staff retaliation. This may include marking a resident’s file with information that isn’t true or placing the person on unfair restrictions, he said.
For some time, resident Christopher Neubauer said he was restricted from leaving the building except to attend appointments. Neubauer said the restriction was lifted this week after he had spent weeks urging staff members to provide him with more information.
Neubauer is recovering from alcoholism and suspects that staff and administrators placed him on the restriction to keep him from going to the liquor store. He said he is motivated to stay sober and thought the restriction was unnecessary.
He added if he had really wanted alcohol, he could easily have found it inside the facility. Residents have no problem sneaking alcohol into Albany Care, where they store it under their beds, he said.
According to Seals, alcohol is not allowed within the facility. Albany Care has policies to address individuals found with illicit substances, she wrote in her statement.
Neubauer said his mental well-being has declined significantly since he arrived at the facility in February 2021, and was particularly bad when he couldn’t go outside. “A lot of people here see [Albany Care] as a death sentence, or like they’re in jail,” he said.
“Amanda,” a pseudonym for another resident who prefers to remain unidentified, said the facility offers no support for trauma victims. She said she feels neglected and stripped of her rights in Albany Care, though she thinks the facility’s failings are indicative of the larger mental health system.
Inconsistent administration of medicine
Basquin said one of his primary concerns is the sporadic administration of medicine. On a morning in mid-November, residents on Basquin’s floor were awakened at 4 a.m. to receive their morning medication, which is usually taken at 8:30 a.m, he said. A couple of days later they received no afternoon medication, he added, and for a couple of days, they didn’t receive their medication at all.
Residents at Albany Care suffer from serious mental and physical illnesses and require medicine for conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, schizophrenia, epilepsy and bipolar disorder. “This is a life or death situation,” said Basquin.
The geriatric care manager, whose client has also noted the inconsistent administration of medicine, said some antipsychotic medications only last for 12 hours, so when residents miss their regular medication, their mental health and behavior are affected.
The second case manager said she also had a client at Albany Care who didn’t receive his medication in a timely manner. He moved into the facility about three months ago and left after two weeks. During that time, he never met with a psychiatrist and did not receive his medication, she said.
The statement shared by the Evanston Health and Human Services Department on Nov. 28 states that complaints about the inconsistency of medication administration were also made to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, a City of Evanston program that protects those who live in longterm care facilities by working with the facility’s staff and responding to residents’ complaints.
However, without being present during medication administration, the Health Department is unable to confirm whether this is true, the statement read.
Seals, the new executive director, denies that medication delivery to residents is irregular. “All residents at Albany Care are given the correct medication at intervals set by their psychiatrist or doctor,” she wrote in her statement. “The proper delivery of medication to our residents is very important and is highly regulated by Illinois law.”
Both the geriatric care manager and Basquin said they filed a complaint with Illinois Department of Public Health regarding the administration of medicine. Basquin said he and several other residents met with someone from IDPH who told them the Department will keep a close eye on the situation.
The geriatric care manager said the department followed up with her in a letter, saying it was working on the situation. Since Thanksgiving, she said, things have gotten a little better for her client, who has since received her daily medication.
‘There’s nothing to do in the building‘
Both the geriatric care manager and the case manager say there is also a lack of programming at the facility.
“There’s nothing to do in the building,” said the geriatric care manager. “You’ve got all these pent-up folks, they’re not medically managed, you’re going to have more behavioral issues.”
Residents at a facility like Albany Care should be supported and spend their time productively, said the case manager. She said she didn’t think the facility offered enough activities and case managers were encouraging residents to participate in a structured day.
“Hanging out of the park all day is not an acceptable way to spend your day when you’re in recovery,” said the case manager. Residents should be in a combination of therapeutic groups and psycho-social groups, to help them build healthy relationships and improve their quality of life.
Staff members need to check in with residents daily and actively engage with them, the case manager added. This should be a requirement, she added.
Albany Care offered many classes and activities before the pandemic that her client regularly attended, said the geriatric care manager, but the facility halted those classes as a COVID-19 prevention measure and hasn’t re-started them.
In her statement, Seals wrote: “Albany Care is a community. As such, there are many programs and activities that residents participate [in].” She added that some events and activities have been suspended due to the pandemic, but the available activities include Bingo, holiday parties and classes covering aggression management, financial skills, body awareness, community re-integration, social skills, creative self-expression, relaxation and meditation, strategic thinking, problem-solving, self-care practices and life skills.
When asked about these activities, Neubauer said if they’re really happening, they aren’t well promoted. The locations for activities also change without notice, so it’s hard to find out where they take place, he said. He added that there are very few activities that actually communicate to residents that administrators care about their well-being and that the facility doesn’t set goals for him.
Albany Care: ‘Everyone deserves the opportunity to heal’
In her statement, Seals confirmed that Albany Care accepts individuals with a criminal background and added the facility doesn’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of their prior interactions with law enforcement. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to heal and become functioning members of society,” she wrote.
Basquin said he thinks some of the new residents with criminal backgrounds aren’t trying very hard to get better. He said he wonders whether it’s conducive to have them living alongside people with mental illnesses who are looking to get help.
The geriatric care manager said her client feels less safe now than she did before, and she is grateful that her bedroom door has a lock. There’s a younger population now at Albany Care who don’t seem to have anything to do, and have more addiction issues, she said.
The other case manager said most of the facilities she works with do not accept individuals with criminal records. “People with criminal records that are mentally ill do need a place to live, it just needs to be a stronger facility, not a weaker facility,” she said.
Resident reports increased drug use
Since the new residents arrived, Basquin said drug use has increased, especially in Grey Park. He said drugs and alcohol are also used inside the facility, particularly marijuana, which is legal in Illinois but illegal in facilities like Albany Care.
“Drug and alcohol use is not permitted inside Albany Care,” Seals wrote in her statement. However, some residents have substance use disorders, and when the disorder becomes problematic, the individual is referred to an outside substance abuse treatment facility, her statement read.
According to Seals, the facility hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, for residents. However, treatment is optional and staff cannot force anyone into treatment.
Neubauer said many residents smoke marijuana. Crack and cocaine are also popular within the facility. Basquin said he recently returned to his room to find his roommate smoking crack.
In addition to drug and alcohol use, some residents steal from the local shops, break windows, stalk neighbors and inappropriately expose themselves, said Basquin.
At a 4th Ward meeting on Dec. 8, Evanston police Officer Mike Jones spoke about an Albany Care resident who was reportedly masturbating in front of Main Street businesses on several occasions. The investigation is ongoing, Jones said.
Neighbors attending the 4th Ward meeting also described aggressive panhandling near Grey Park. The family-care advocate said she also noticed the panhandling. The residents’ time should be spent in such a way that they don’t have the option to spend time panhandling, she said.
The case manager said she had a client living in housing provided by Impact Behavioral Health Partners, a nonprofit organization in Evanston that provides housing and support to adults with mental illness. Her client befriended some Albany Care residents but ended up getting robbed by his new friends, she said.
The case manager said she filed a complaint with S.I.R. Management and even sent a video of Albany Care residents standing outside the building holding her client’s possessions, but nothing ever happened, she said.
‘There are absolutely no consequences‘
Residents who severely injured their peers often face few consequences, said Basquin. A little over a year ago, one of his roommates threw him against a bathroom door handle, slashing the skin over his eye, he said. Basquin said he went to the hospital to get stitches, and when he returned five hours later, his roommate was still in the room. The following day his roommate was moved to a different room on the same floor, Basquin said.
“Why would you let someone that has physically hurt another peer come back into the facility?” said Basquin.
Individuals at Albany Care have been badly harmed by other residents, Basquin said, but according to data provided by the Evanston Police Department, there have been only seven battery arrests in the last five years.
Basquin said he also knows of one resident who burned his girlfriend’s arm with a cigarette, and when she returned from the hospital, he was still there. She discharged herself because she was afraid of him, he said. “There are absolutely no consequences,” he added.
Any severe physical altercations must be reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health within 24 hours, and then thoroughly investigated, Seals said in her statement. Residents deemed to be a threat to staff or other residents are transferred to a different facility, she wrote. If a resident commits a crime, that crime is reported to the police, she added.
“If a resident must be removed from Albany Care, we follow a mandated state process,” Seals wrote. “We are unable to remove any individual without going through the required state process which also provides the opportunity for the resident in question to appeal their discharge.”
The Evanston Health and Human Service Department explained this process in more detail in its Nov. 28 statement to the RoundTable: there are only a few reasons a resident would be discharged from a facility like Albany Care, including nonpayment, not meeting the facility’s criteria, posing a threat to others or if the facility ceases operation without appropriate notice.
Even with one of these reasons, residents must be provided with an involuntary discharge notice or a 30-day notice to leave, the Department explained. The resident also has the option to request a hearing to review the circumstances surrounding the discharge, and an administrative law judge through the state health department then decides whether the resident stays or goes, the statement read.
Basquin said seeing a resident who has physically harmed another walk the hallways as if nothing happened is intimidating, and makes him fear for his own safety.
Some residents report discrimination, harassment
Basquin said there is a staff member who works at the facility’s front desk who repeatedly threatens him and uses offensive Asian slurs. Basquin said he filed a complaint with the state health department in early October and has since received a letter saying the state is investigating the incident but that this investigation could take months.
The complaint was intended to be anonymous, but Basquin said a staff member discovered he had filed it. Basquin said the staff member told him days later to “go back to his country.” The staff member also threatened Basquin, saying if they ever met outside the facility, he would “beat the living shit” out of him, according to Basquin.
Basquin said the staff member still makes derogatory comments to him.
“Harassment of any kind is not tolerated,” Seals wrote in her statement. “There are no corroborated complaints made against any of our staff.” She added that anyone can file a grievance and all grievances made directly to the facility are thoroughly investigated.
The city’s Health and Human Services Department wrote that different residents have different definitions of the word harassment, and what a resident is experiencing may not fit the legal definition of the word. The city’s Ombudsman program receives complaints about staff from all facilities at some point or another, the statement read.
The goal is not to focus on the term harassment, but rather to make sure the resident doesn’t feel mistreated, the Health and Human Services Department said.
In addition to harassment, Neubauer said there are men within the facility who prostitute female residents in order to buy drugs. Amanda said she has seen women in the facility turn to prostitution for money. She also knows of a woman who reported rape to Albany Care staff. Amanda said she doesn’t know of any investigation that occurred after the woman made her report, and she heard later that the rapist assaulted another woman. “Sexual harassment is the norm, especially among the younger females,” she said.
Data shared by the Evanston Police Department show that on Oct. 26, a call regarding a sex offense investigation was made to the police from within Albany Care.
Moving out is challenging
Neubauer has applied to several sober living homes and plans to move if a spot opens up. He hopes to leave Albany Care within the next few weeks if conditions don’t improve.
Basquin is also motivated to leave the facility and is looking for his own apartment through Albany Care’s Moving On program, which helps residents find an apartment and pays for the first three months of rent. However, Basquin is ineligible for the program until he receives Social Security and disability benefits.
Amanda dreams of relocating to a facility in Colorado that she said is healing-oriented and provides more recreational opportunities and therapeutic programs for residents.
Many of the residents in Albany Care have experiences that reflect those of Amanda, Neubauer and Basquin, they said. Basquin said he is advocating on behalf of these residents, who just want a safe place to live and heal. He hopes things will get better soon. “It can’t get any worse,” he added.