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June 25th, 2003 Chris Lydgate | News Stories
 

A Black Eye for Woodland Park

Inspectors sound alarm after psych-ward takedown.

     
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illustration by paul solevad
State inspectors have found a pattern of problems at the psychiatric ward of Woodland Park Hospital, following an incident last month in which a female patient suffered a broken nose and two black eyes after being restrained by a male staffer.

Regulators also say staff at the 30-bed ward have called 911 to ask for police help in subduing patients 10 times in as many months, a situation the county's mental-health boss, Dr. Peter Davidson, called "entirely unacceptable."

"If someone is trespassing or stealing parts from the MRI, of course they should call the police," Davidson told WW. "But in terms of controlling patients, there should be no calls to police--ever."

Mental-health professionals generally shudder at the prospect of police officers on a locked ward--especially since the death two years ago of Jose Mejia Poot, who was shot and killed by Portland police officers at Pacific Gateway Hospital after he escaped from a defective "hold room." That hospital was later shut down by regulators.

"The last thing we want to do is go into a locked facility where we might be forced to defend ourselves," says Sgt. Brian Schmautz of the Portland Police Bureau. "This kind of situation puts officers in a very difficult position."

Woodland Park CEO Rich Alley says police have only been called once to subdue a psychiatric patient. But police records indicate that officers were dispatched to the hospital 19 times in the past 12 months. Although many of these calls did not involve the psychiatric ward, several others were designated "mental," "assist" or "disturb."

Details of last month's altercation remain sketchy. According to a preliminary report, the incident took place May 25 when a staff member grabbed a female patient from behind and maneuvered her into a hold room. The patient pitched forward onto a bed frame and broke her nose.

Hospital staff did not treat the woman's injuries for three days, according to a source close to the investigation. Meanwhile, the staffer continued to work regular shifts, although he has since been fired.

Even before the latest incident, advocates for the mentally ill had concerns about the psych ward at Woodland Park, a 209-bed for-profit facility located at Northeast 103rd Avenue and Halsey Street and owned by Symphony Healthcare of Nashville, Tenn.

"There have been problems with this facility in the past," says Bob Joondeph of the Oregon Advocacy Center. "We're glad the county is taking them more seriously now."

Internal emails obtained by WW show that Multnomah County officials discussed conditions at the hospital just 10 days before the takedown. On May 16, Barbara Brady, a supervisor with the county's involuntary commitment program, warned top brass of her concerns about "the low level of patient care and safety, coordination and management of services, and communication that is apparently present at Woodland Park."

Alley declined to discuss the incident due to patient confidentiality. However, he did issue the following statement:

"The hospital has taken immediate corrective action covering the full extent of the state's concerns.... Patient care and safety is a primary concern of the hospital."

Other problems cited by inspectors include sexual abuse of a patient by a staffer; a sloppy logbook; and sketchy documentation. Woodland Park has until July 16 to respond to inspectors' concerns.

 
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