The Illinois Department of Public Health has opened an investigation on Advocate Christ Medical Center, the facility facing questions following the birth of a child who police say was cut from the womb of his mother, 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa, NBC 5 Investigates has learned.
IDPH has responsibility for all investigations of Illinois hospitals where violations of state or federal law are suspected. While she would not discuss specifics of this case, spokesman Melaney Arnold told NBC 5 such investigations include a mandatory unannounced visit to the hospital by investigators, who were on site at Christ Medical Center Tuesday afternoon.
Arnold said IDPH investigations can be triggered by a complaint from the public, from law enforcement, or even from publicity or media reports. She said she did not know how the complaint in this case was received. She said such investigations can take multiple days, and can involve interviews with hospital staff, as well as relatives and/or patients, and reviews of hospital records.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ochoa-Lopez family," Christ Medical Center said in a statement. "Our top priority is to provide the safest and highest quality care for the patients and communities we serve. Out of respect for patient privacy and in compliance with federal and state regulations, we are unable to provide comment. We continue to cooperate with local authorities."
The news comes one day after the Cook County sheriff’s office questioned if the hospital violated state law by not immediately reporting that a woman who claimed to be the mother of a newborn had not given birth.
The woman, Clarisa Figueroa, and her daughter, Desiree, were later charged with strangling the baby’s mother, Ochoa, and cutting the newborn from her womb.
At a bail hearing last week, prosecutors explained how the 46-year-old Figueroa was examined in a birthing center at Christ Medical Center on April 23 “but showed no signs consistent with a woman who had just delivered a baby.”
A technician at the Oak Lawn hospital cleaned blood from Figueroa’s arms, face and hands, prosecutors said, but it was unclear if anyone verified that she had actually given birth.
Figueroa was allegedly able to pass off the baby as her own for weeks.
It wasn’t until May 9 that a “mandated reporter” — someone required to report suspected neglect or abuse — notified the Department of Child and Family Services about the newborn, DCFS spokesman Jassen Strokosch said. The child was then taken into protective custody.
After a DNA test proved that the baby was actually that of Ochoa's husband, the agency let the 48-hour protective custody lapse, and the baby was turned over to his father, Strokosch said.
The sheriff’s office has asked the state DCFS why it was not notified sooner that Clarisa Figueroa claimed to have given birth but showed no signs of it.
On Monday, the sheriff’s office said it will investigate the hospital if it finds the medical center violated the Abuse and Neglected Children Reporting Act.
“We will consult with DCFS and if they determine the facts and circumstances of this tragedy were such that should have been reported by mandated reporters, we will ensure an investigation takes place,” sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cara Smith said in an email.
In a statement, DCFS said it “will provide any support needed to the family in this case and to those handling any investigations into this matter.”
There is currently no law or regulation to to ensure a baby belongs to the person presenting with the baby at a hospital.
Hospital regulation falls under the purview of The Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Strokosch said.
Clarisa Figueroa and her daughter are being held without bail in the murder of 19-year-old Ochoa and cutting the baby out of her womb. The newborn is on life support and not expected to survive.