Oregon State Hospital Will Stop Giving Condoms to Patients

“That particular footnote was a surprise,” Gov. Tina Kotek said this morning.

Oregon State Hospital campus, Salem (Brian Burk)

Earlier this week, state officials released a scathing federal report that found Oregon’s state-run psychiatric hospital was failing to keep patients safe from assaults. But one particular aspect of the report caught the eye of reporters—and, apparently, the governor.

Federal inspectors revealed that staff at Oregon’s state-run psychiatric hospital was distributing condoms, which appeared to be an odd decision for a mental health care facility whose policy is to discourage all sexual contact between patients.

“I don’t know why they’re handing out condoms,” Gov. Tina Kotek said in response to a question at a press conference Friday afternoon. “That particular footnote was a surprise, and we’re going to be talking to them.”

Shortly after the press conference, a spokeswoman for the hospital offered an explanation. “We were distributing condoms to patients for cleanliness and self-pleasure,” Amber Shoebridge said. In other words, hospital staff had found a way to limit the mess after masturbation.

“We are in the process of discontinuing it,” Shoebridge added. “We are not promoting sex between partners.”

The practice had been going on for decades, Shoebridge said. But it drew the attention of inspectors who arrived at the facility in February to investigate complaints of patient assaults.

While there, they reviewed the files of dozens of patients, including one who told staff on Feb. 21 about a sexual encounter with another patient. “[The patient who spoke to staff] was a vulnerable person who was easily influenced, would not meet criteria for informed consent, and was unable to consistently make rational decisions,” according to staff who later investigated the incident.

Staff reviewed security footage that showed the two patients having sex in the “sensory room.” An opened condom wrapper was on the floor.

The patient believed sexual contact was encouraged, according to staff notes, because condoms were easily available. According to their chart, the patient “saw condoms being handed out to [opposite-gender] patients and [the patient] asked staff, ‘Why are you handing out condoms. Does this mean we should be getting busy?’ and another time, ‘Because you give out condoms here, it makes people think about sex.’”

Staff told the patient at the time that the condoms “were not for peer-to-peer use” and that sex between patients was prohibited.

Still, federal inspectors were concerned. “It was unclear why the hospital would engage in the practice of condom distribution to any patient who asked without a written policy and procedure that ensured the protection and safety of all patients,” they wrote in a report released by the hospital Wednesday.

Ultimately, they cited the hospital for failing “to prevent patient-to-patient sexual contact and sexual assault.”

The Lund Report first noted the report’s concern about condom distribution, and Oregon Public Broadcasting reported the hospital’s reversal on Friday.

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