Local News

Ward where mental patient died closes at Cherry Hospital

Posted August 22, 2008

— The ward on which a patient died after he was left unattended for nearly a day is closed, and the 16 Cherry Hospital staff members on duty during that time have been disciplined, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton said Friday.

Closing the ward at the Goldsboro facility reduces adult admissions from 90 to 67 beds and reduces Cherry Hospital's overall bed capacity from 274 to 251, but allows the hospital to have two registered nurses on the remaining three wards for each shift, which is now standard, Benton said.

He added that the department will look into whether all or part of the closed ward can be re-opened if it can meet the two-nurse requirement.

The closure followed a federal report, released Monday, that states Steven Sabock, of Roanoke Rapids, was found unresponsive in a hospital bed in April after hospital workers left him in a chair for 22 hours and, at one point, he choked on medication. An autopsy concluded he died from a pre-existing heart condition.

A security video camera recorded the incident and showed hospital staff watching TV and playing cards a few feet away.

Sabock sat, unattended, in the room for four work shifts, ate nothing the day he died and had little food in the three days preceding his death, the 47-page report also said. Workers were supposed to be closely monitoring his condition and may have forged documents that said they had.

One of the staff members involved in the incident surrounding Sabock's death has resigned, and the others have been disciplined with punishments ranging from counseling to five days' suspension.

They have also been removed from direct patient care and given other assignments for at least 60 days, Benton said. They are also required to receive additional training and re-education. If they are deemed ready to return to direct care, they will do so under training supervisors.

"This level of disciplinary action is insufficient," Benton said. "Hospital management is being directed to re-examine the disciplinary actions."

Not all of the staff were involved, he said, and those who were not will be reassigned to the other three wards to improve staffing supervision and quality of care.

Benton also said the state will provide ongoing external management oversight at Cherry Hill for the next 90 days to monitor wards for proper documentation of patient care, increasing training on treatment protocols and assisting in training that will improve the quality of supervision and nursing care for patients.

Federal officials have threatened to cut off funding because of Sabock's death and a report that a physician punched a patient after the teen bit the doctor.

The state has until Aug. 23 to file a report with the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services detailing what changes officials are making.

If the center rejects the report, federal funds will be cut off Sept. 1.

Cherry Hospital, in Goldsboro, serves more than 2,700 people a year in 36 eastern counties and employs more than 1,100 people.


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  • houndie Aug 22, 2008

    The workers who neglected this man should lose their license if they have one!

  • elatsmith Aug 22, 2008

    Most state workers do try, and the hospital workers do too, under dangerous conditions.Like any government there are too many administrators, not enough workers with the patients.The policies are changed frequently just to justify someone having a desk/ office and more and more paperwork is added to the workers who need time to spend with the patients. I know for a fact that many of the problems have been reported again and again and again and ignored, then something like this poor mans death happens and everyone with a suit and tie suddenly cares. The nurse to patient ratios are awful, staff leave at least as fast as they can be recruited. The ward for the most violent patients was closed to save some money, which means they are all housed together, so the non-violent patients have to put up with assault or at least constant fear of assault, as do many staff. If we speak out to expose the truth, we are disciplined for some minor or made up infraction

  • str8-line Aug 22, 2008

    And we, the children of these parents in these hospitals are powerless to do anything. I have had a family member in Dorthea Dix. It was absolutely gut wrenching. My family member was chased by two patients trying to rape him and another wanting to fight him. A day later when I was able to get someone on the phone I was told the issues had been resolved. It took me two days to get anyone on the phone about this issue. Just hope you never need any type of help from a state run mental hospital such as Dorthea Dix. helpless and hopeless

  • reh4859 Aug 22, 2008

    Grayboomerrang--- I'm not trying at all to validate what happened in this situation, however, think about it this way: If Cherry Hospital were to shut down, where would all of the mentally ill patients go? Out into the communities. And then everyone would complain about lack of facilities for the mentally ill--- oh wait, they already are, especially with the recent closing of Dorthea Dix. NC's recent Mental Health Reform has put all mentally ill patients in jeopardy. It is unfortunate, however, that these things happen, but how many times does the media report nurses and other health care team members being abused by mentally ill patients? I'm sure that happens a LOT more often....

  • xchief661 Aug 22, 2008

    This is totally outrageous. It is not something that should happen in this day and age. The biting incident is something you expect from 4yo's. You would certainly disipline a 4yo or a grown up who has the mind of a 4yo. If someone is biting me they are gonna get smacked.

  • grayboomerang Aug 22, 2008

    Wow, so apparently as long as you are in a hospital setting...you can strap someone to a chair for a day/kill them..and it's no big deal to our government....Oops, don't do that again.

    The hospital should be closed...criminal charges filed.

  • beachboater Aug 22, 2008

    Cherry Hospital is just like the nursing homes. In the slow hours (particularly 11 pm to 7 am) the staff doesn't give a rip about anything except NOT doing their jobs.

    I can't say that about nursing staff, because I haven't seen it. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but I couldn't prove it. If a patient can't complain out loud, they are in a bad position.

    Sad, sad situation. These staff members surely knew about the camera and didn't even worry about it. That's a poor state of affairs. At least someone with some sense would play cards out of view of the camera.

  • keeprightexcepttopass Aug 22, 2008

    I wonder why they would bring up the Doctor slapping the person who bit him. As a psych nurse for over 13 years in both state institutions and correctional facilities, we are trained that if you are being assaulted, do whatever it takes to free yourself and get to safety. You better believe I would hit someone who was biting me in order to protect myself! I was bitten by a patient many many years ago, and it was a very painful experience.

  • hkypky Aug 22, 2008

    Just Once: Sorry about that. I saw "...and..." and thought "...than..."

  • hkypky Aug 22, 2008

    "Sounds more like neglect and involuntary manslaughter to me."

    Neglect!? You put on a bandaid, get a blanket, have something to eat or get a change of clothes after you have been neglected.

    A person died here.