According to data obtained through open records requests, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which operates Stroger Hospital in Chicago, one of the nation's busiest safety-net hospitals, settled 41 medical negligence cases from 2012 through last September for a total of more than $80.5 million.
Chicago's other major public hospital system, the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, agreed to pay $83.7 million in 33 medical malpractice cases during the same period, records show.
The two publicly owned Chicago medical centers aren't unique in paying such big sums. Hospitals across the country pay 10-figure settlements in some malpractice cases and are struggling to cut down on errors.
“There is a huge problem here,” said Martin Hatlie, chief executive at Chicago-based Project Patient Care, a not-for-profit group that researches and advocates for safer medical treatment and advises the federal government. Speaking broadly, he calls hospital legal settlements only “the tip of the iceberg” because a great number of harmful or deadly incidents don't end up in court.
In 2014, the citizen watchdog group, the Better Government Association, found that over 10 years, public hospitals across Illinois, including local medical centers, Veterans Affairs hospitals and mental health treatment centers, agreed to pay families more than $180 million. The vast majority of those settlements were paid out by the Cook County and the University of Illinois health systems.