The largest psychiatric hospital in Washington state has an overworked staff unable to provide necessary safety and care to its patients, according to both employees and patients’ family members.
For years, U.S. and state regulators have found health and safety violations at Western State Hospital, an 800-bed hospital in Lakewood, Wash., according to an exclusive from The Associated Press.
Violations range from assaults on staff and patients to escapes of dangerous patients. Staff members also claim they have faced retaliation for speaking out regarding dangerous patients.
In 2016, a male patient escaped and was accused of torturing a woman to death. The patient was charged with murder but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Following the 2016 escape, nursing supervisor Paul Vilja filed a complaint after the patient was returned to a different ward with limited security that typically houses patients that cannot care for themselves.
Vilja said he faced retaliation for reporting the dangerous patient to non-violent patients.
“I said you are endangering my patients and he’s a risk for escape,” recalled Vilja.
The health department agreed with Vilja and relocated the patient. However, Vilja said within a week, he was moved to the medical records department and was not allowed to work with patients for six months.
Psychiatrists Claim Retaliation for Disagreeing with Management Decisions
Psychiatrists have echoed Vilja’s claims, indicating they have faced similar treatment. Three claimed they were scolded for objecting to management decisions that they said would put patients and staff at risk. Two of the psychiatrists were fired and the other was removed from patient care.
Another psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Quayle, said he faced a hostile work environment after he reported expiring and improperly stored meat where food was prepared for patients. Quayle sued the hospital in December 2016 and was awarded $550,000 by a jury.
A recent unannounced federal inspection supported the above claims, finding the hospital continually puts patients at risk. The inspection discovered some patients did not receive oxygen and blood-sugar checks, some of their injuries were not properly treated and some were held in restraints for too long.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services removed the hospital’s certification and federal funding, which totaled $53 million a year and an estimated 20 percent of its budget.
“We have been on a course correction to turn this ship around and we are continuing on that course of improvement,” said Governor Jay Inslee.
Patient’s Daughter Claims Mother Was Neglected, Sexually Assaulted
Patients’ family members also voiced their concerns regarding the safety of their loved ones while in the hospital.
“They don’t have enough staff to protect patients, or provide them with the bare minimum of care,” said Lisa Bowser, whose mother was committed to the hospital for depression in 2014 and stayed through 2015.
Bowser, who has sued the facility claiming abuse and neglect, alleges her mother suffered dozens of falls and assaults and that she discovered bruises all over her body. She also said her mother’s room was covered with garbage and she was rarely bathed, causing fungus to grow on her feet.
“They wouldn’t bathe her,” Bowser said. “She would tell me that another patient hit her. They would put her in a jumpsuit so she couldn’t go to the bathroom, and the staff made fun of her for wetting herself. She was treated like an animal.”
Bowser also claimed her mother was sexually assaulted on several occasions and that staffers appeared to condone sexual interactions with patients.
A registered sex offender was placed in her mother’s ward after employees believed patients would be safe because he was a “child molester, not adult rapist”, according to an email written to hospital officials by licensed mental health counselor Mark Allen. Allen also said the encounter appeared to be between two consenting adults.
Just because the patient is a registered sex offender “doesn’t mean he can’t develop and have consensual physical/sexual behaviors, as long as the peer is psychiatrically stable, has the ability to make decisions for herself and is not considered ‘vulnerable,’” the email continued.
Bowser’s attorney James Beck said her mother was committed to the hospital because she was unable to take care of herself.
Nurses also allegedly admitted to Bowser that they could not properly care for her mother because they did not have enough staff.
A hospital worker who asked to remain anonymous for the fear of being fired said the hospital hired “nurse educators”, who don’t see patients, instead of certified nurses. The staffer also said the hospital has lost 15 psychiatrists in three years with no new hires.
“Going there was like going to hell,” said Bowser of visiting her mother. “I honestly thought they would kill her before I could get her out.”
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