Help in Accessing Closed Records of Illinois State Mental Hospitals | Newberry

Help in Accessing Closed Records of Illinois State Mental Hospitals

I thank all of you who have commented on my March 2012 article about mental hospital records at the Illinois State Archives. Clearly there is a clamoring for access to the closed patient records. My research to date shows there are two ways to obtain them, depending if immediate family members survive.

1. If you are an immediate family member of a deceased patient, or can get an immediate family member to make the request.

Three additional requirements apply:
• 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

The written request goes to the medical records department of the state hospital. The hospital charges a $20 handling fee plus copying charges of $0.75/pg for pages 1-25, $0.50/pg for pages 26-50, and $0.25/pg for pages 51+. Copies made from digital format cost 50% of the paper copy charges. Copies from microfilm or microfiche shall not exceed $1.25/pg. There are other charges for non-standard items such as x-ray films. The hospital has to provide the information within 60 days of receiving the request.

This is the format of the written request:

I, [insert name of authorized relative in capital letters], certify that I am
an authorized relative of the deceased [insert name of deceased in capital letters].
A certified copy of the death certificate is attached.
I certify that to the best of my knowledge and belief that
no executor or administrator has been appointed for the
deceased’s estate, that no agent was authorized to act for the
deceased under a power of attorney for health care, and the
deceased has not specifically objected to disclosure in
I certify that I am the surviving spouse of the deceased;
I certify that there is no surviving spouse and my relationship to the deceased is
[select one from list below and insert]:
(1) An adult son or daughter of the deceased.
(2) Either parent of the deceased.
(3) An adult brother or sister of the deceased.
This certification is made under penalty of perjury.*
Dated: [insert date]

[Authorized Relative’s signature]
[type Authorized Relative’s Name in capital letters below signature]
[Authorized Relative’s address]
*(Note: Perjury is defined in Section 32-2 of the Criminal Code
of 1961, and is a Class 3 felony.)”

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, then investigate what governmental body it might have been filed with. For example, I have seen powers of attorney for property filed at the recorder of deeds.

Regarding certified copies of death certificates: Certified copies of Cook County death certificates ($17 as of July 1, 2012) cannot be obtained through Instead they can be ordered in one of five ways, see

For deaths in other counties, contact the county clerk’s office. Contact information for all Illinois counties is listed at this link:

The Illinois Department of Public Health is another source of certified death certificates, see

Note: SB3171, a bill that clarifies Public Act 097-0623, was sent to Gov. Quinn on June 28, 2012. It eliminates the $20 handling charge for the records, references the pertinent section of the Code of Civil Procedure, and adds language about the relative acting as a personal representative of a deceased patient. You may want to wait until the governor signs this into law because it becomes effective immediately and would save some money. View the text of the bill and updates at

2. If there are no surviving immediate family members (for instance, the ancestor was institutionalized in the 1800s).

A court order from an Illinois circuit court will be necessary. The best argument is family health history, such as seeing an inherited disposition to mental illness. The order is directed to the Illinois Department of Human Services for processing.

You will need an attorney versed in mental health law. Several bar associations offer low-cost referrals:

Illinois State Bar Association
(877) 851-7882
$25 for a half-hour consultation; you are not obligated to hire the lawyer

West Suburban Bar Association
(708) 366-1122
$25 for first consultation

Northwest Suburban Bar Association
(847) 221-2681
$25 for half-hour consultation + attorney’s fees for any work done

Chicago Bar Association
(312) 554-2001 • TDD (312) 554-2055
$30 for first consultation plus attorney’s fees

Please post comments to let me and others know about your experiences using the two methods in this article. I am in the process of using the first method, verifying that no probate was opened, so I cannot report on its effectiveness yet.

By Grace Dumelle, Genealogy and Local History Assistant