Local News

Patient appears neglected in hours before his death

Posted November 18, 2008
Updated November 19, 2008

— Workers at Cherry Hospital dance, play cards, laugh and watch TV as 50-year-old Steven Howard Sabock sits unattended in the same room for nearly 24 hours before he dies.

Patient advocate Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, called it one of the most troubling images she had ever seen. "Every staff member in a 24-hour time period neglected their responsibility to this man," Smith said Tuesday.

Occasionally, they would check on him, but he was otherwise ignored for hours at a time, according to more than 24 hours of surveillance video released Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The video begins with an injury. Sabock is seen falling, hitting his head on the evening of April 28. He needs help to regain his feet and is helped from the room.

Two hours later, he appears in the Goldsboro psychiatric facility’s day room. Until 9 p.m. the next night, no one feeds him, checks his vital signs or helps him from his chair.

An attorney for Sabock's family said that his parents had not yet seen the video.  "His family had to deal with his death back in the spring and now they are having to deal with learning how he died," Gene Riddle said Tuesday.

On behalf of the family, Riddle released this statement: We’re heartbroken and we’re truly saddened by the information we received. We don’t want to rush to any judgment. We will investigate thoroughly and at the end of investigation the Sabock family will consider their options.

In the video, Sabock is left in the chair through the night. After workers leave the room, turning out the lights, he sits. Occasionally, staffers check on him.

At 7 a.m. on April 29, a nurse, with the assistance of another patient, changes his shirt.

At 8:13 a.m., a worker approaches Sabock with a breakfast tray, taps him on the shoulder twice to rouse him, then walks off with the tray.

At 12:37 p.m., staffers try to rouse Sabock again. He's apparently sleeping, so again he doesn't eat, drink or leave the chair.

John Tote, executive director of the Mental Health Association inf North Carolina, said the parts of the video he saw were shocking. "When you see people walking back and forth over a period of many hours, when you see that individual slumping forward, when you realize the life is literally draining out of him before your eyes, that's more than a powerful picture. That's a tragic event."

At 8:59 p.m., two employees move Sabock toward the bedroom area of the ward. Less than 10 minutes later, at 9:05 p.m., workers pushing a crash cart head to the bedroom area, followed by numerous others.

Paramedics arrive at 9:21 p.m., and at 9:27 p.m., they leave with Sabock on a stretcher.

An autopsy found Sabock died of a pre-existing heart condition. According to a federal report, he ate nothing the day he died and had little food in the three days preceding his death. Workers were supposed to be monitoring his condition.

The lack of care by workers – at times in the video, they appear more concerned with their cell phones than they do with caring for their patient – prompted DHHS officials to close the ward.

One employee resigned, and 15 other workers involved were disciplined and removed from direct patient care.

Federal regulators in September also pulled the hospital’s certification that allowed it to receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. As a result, the state must pay up to $10 million to cover expenses associated with treating patients under the federal insurance programs.

Compass Group Inc., an independent consultant firm, found Cherry Hospital must undergo a number of organizational and cultural changes before it reapplies for certification. Those changes include improving communication and a new management structure for overseeing patients.

In a two-part plan, Compass Group will bring in a team of experts to work with the hospital's management to design and implement a comprehensive plan to address cultural, operational and developmental needs.

Then, it plans to address the issues necessary to help Cherry Hospital be reinstated. Secretary Dempsey Benton, of DHHS, has said he expects that process to take until next summer.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • bigpoppa0588 Nov 19, 2008

    "Appears" to be neglected ???????????

  • amyrn Nov 19, 2008

    Jennifer, to work at Cherry as a tech, the person has to get their CNA, they also have to pass reference checks, drug screen and background criminal check. They also have to have training as a health care technician.

  • amyrn Nov 19, 2008

    Please show me someone flipping burgers at Mickey D's making 12 dollars an hour.
    Yes, pre-existing heart condition exacerbated by dehydration and electrolye imbalance.
    Many of these people don't have familes that are involved in their care....many of them have families that just want to wash their hands of them.
    There are some families that are very supportive.
    No matter what excuses...THERE WAS NO EXCUSE FOR THIS TO HAPPEN.

  • jenniferannburke Nov 19, 2008

    These places will hire anyone who has a pulse. Some places require certification, which takes all of 6 months to "achieve", but most will hire employees with little or no regard to past work experience, reference & background checks. If one of these fine workers is fired from one place, they hop on over to the next one and get hired there. This goes for the housekeeping staff right on up to administration. Everyone wants to get paid, but no one wants to work.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Nov 19, 2008

    Where did that Half Billion Dollars go mr. easley?

    Don't worry he is on his way out and we will have a new governor that will probably do a better job 10 times than Easley would dream. A woman is going to show him how the job is to be done. lol

  • webberx101 Nov 19, 2008

    Where did that Half Billion Dollars go mr. easley?

    Oh its just some mental people anyway right?

  • Dr. Dataclerk Nov 19, 2008

    What a sad situation that the doctors, nurses, aids, nurses assistant, and other workers would passed this man with no care in the world. Everyone of them should have been fired immediately after viewing the video. Then they should have brought in fresh new staff. If I was his family that put him in the hospital's care, I would sue. Simply as that and they do have the proof. Pray that another patient is not suffering because of the staff's being so callus.

  • La_Grange_Dude Nov 19, 2008

    These workers we are commenting on here do not intend to do anymore than they have to in order to get paid. They are there to draw a check and that's it. Had it been one of there family members this happened to, they would be first in line to sue the state, call in the naacp and the aclu. If all they want is to sit around and freeload off of taxpayers, let them freeload about 1500 feet down the road at the NC DEPT OF CORRECTIONS. They should be charged and jailed.

  • hunt36 Nov 19, 2008

    This reaaly shows some people really are sorry ti also shows that Dr.'s offices should care about others.When you go into a hospital or Dr's office you wait fo an unreasonalbe amount of time and when you go to the back you wait again. I went to the Dr. once for a simple illness and was ther for 4 and a half hours that is rediculous for anyone. They should be given a time line to see you and the people in this case should be prosecuted and serve jail time.

  • riversxing Nov 19, 2008

    This happens everywhere--luckily more people don't die but come real close. Anyone that has anybody in a facility whether state or privately run needs to keep a constant check on their welfare. If you don't visit the staff will get lax.
    But now for the big question, if the patient had been black and the negligent staff white, wouldn't we be talking about racism and hate crime charges? Why is there such a different standard ?