Answered By: JoEllen Dickie
Last Updated: May 15, 2018     Views: 16

Patient records from IL State Mental Hospitals are held in one of three places:  the Illinois State Archives (ISA) http://ilsos.libraryhost.com/ in Springfield, the hospitals, and more recent records by the Illinois Department of Human Services http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?   

The IL State Archives advises that case files were not required to be retained until the early 1980s, so there are most likely losses within the records.  Case files from the 1800s at ISA consist of large registers with a few lines of description, not voluminous file folders full of material. 

Accessing this information can be challenging because in Illinois, regardless of time period, any records from a mental health and developmental center that mentions a patient’s name is closed. The patient or his or her guardian must sign a release of information.  After death, the release comes through the executor of the patient’s estate or through a court order issued in an Illinois circuit court. The good news is that there are many open records that will give you a context about the institution to which your ancestor was committed. Examples are photos, floor plans, statistics, funding levels, descriptions of therapeutic programs, and reports on living conditions.

To make a request, you need to be an immediate family member of a deceased patient or get an immediate family member to make the request.  Additional requirements that apply include: 
• No probate case was opened for the deceased
• The deceased did not appoint an agent under a power of attorney for health care
• The deceased did not object to disclosure of his/her records in writing

Public Act 097-0623 became effective November 23, 2011. It allows a surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, an adult son or daughter, adult brother or sister, or parent to request the deceased patient’s records “including but not limited to those relating to the diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, history, charts, pictures and plates, kept in connection with the treatment of such patient.” See full text of the law at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=097-0623
Regarding probate cases: Most likely, the patient would not have had a large enough estate for a probate to be opened. Immediate family members should know if a probate was filed. If you are unsure, check the indexes to probate cases in the year of the patient’s death. The probate division of a county’s circuit court handles probate cases. Probates are typically filed in the deceased person’s county of residence. Some counties have online indexes. For other counties, you may have to go to the court house or request a search for a fee.

Regarding power of attorney for health care: The Illinois Power of Attorney Act (P.A. 85-701) became effective September 22, 1987. It would not apply to patients hospitalized prior to that date. For those to whom it did apply, look through family papers first, and then investigate with what governmental body it might have been filed.

 If there are no surviving immediate family members a court order from an Illinois circuit court will be necessary.

The court order is directed to the Illinois Department of Human Services http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?

For more detailed information on state mental hospital records and accessing them, the Newberry Library has published two blogs on this subject:

https://www.newberry.org/records-state-mental-hospitals-illinois-state-archives-part-https://www.newberry.org/help-accessing-closed-records-illinois-state-mental-hospitals

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