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Lawmakers express outrage over mental patient's death

Posted November 20, 2008

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— Some state lawmakers are calling for harsher disciplinary action for employees who were directly and indirectly responsible for neglecting a Cherry Hospital patient who died after 22 hours sitting essentially unattended in the same chair.

"Obviously, this is a failure of management," Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said Thursday at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.

"I mean, obviously," he continued. "I don't know how clearly you can state (that) this must be fixed now, immediately, starting at the top, and you put proper people in place."

Three employees were ultimately fired and two resigned following the April 28-29 incident involving Steven Howard Sabock, 50. Ten other employees were disciplined.

An autopsy found Sabock died of a pre-existing heart condition, but the surveillance video shows employees playing cards, watching TV and socializing over the course of four work shifts while a lethargic Sabock sits less than three feet away.

"I think everyone associated with that incident should not have a job," Rep. Beverly Earle, D-Mecklenburg, said.

Earlier this year, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton closed the ward where Sabbock stayed.

The state also hired an outside consulting firm to help the current management team move forward.

In September, Cherry Hospital lost the federal certification that allows it to receive payments for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients.

That means the state is having to pay an estimated $800,000 more a month until the facility can be recertified. It's unclear how long that will take.

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  • mypuckytaz Nov 24, 2008

    The patient and his wife had been separated for 3 years and she didn't even know he was at Cherry Hospital until after he had died! He was found wondering the streets and taken to Cherry Hospital and his father was notified of where he was - that was his next of kin! Amazing how now all of a sudden this wife of his comes up after his death, so concerned, etc. Sounds like she's only wanting the dollars to me. And if you watch the video - it makes the workers at Cherry not look so bad. It's made to sound like no one even acknowledged this patient for 20+ hours - but the video shows them offering him food, changing his clothes, etc. several different times. So come on folks ... give these people a break! They work hard for their money. Sounds like the wife is a money hungry thief to me ....

  • lilwil Nov 21, 2008

    They are soooooooo outraged, but yet falls short of firing DON and other top management for falsifying reports, knowingly lied to investigators, omitting key information (of which has been proved such information was withheld). It's apparent this has been done before.

  • atc2 Nov 21, 2008

    North Carolina DOT and Health Care sectors are pathetic and crooked (these groups should be under constant watch/monitoring). Fire ALL the heads of thesee departments.

  • Shanti Nov 21, 2008

    I have worked in skilled nursing facilities & mental facilities; both union & non-union. The staff already new this man's history. His vital signs should have been checked every 2 hours at least & he should have been toileted in that same time frame.This is basic care. The fact that this man was left for a long as he was without the "BASICS" is PATIENT ABUSE. All staff involved should be fired IMMEDIATELY; I have seen people fired for a lot less. My heart goes out to the family of this man. I would do exactly what they are doing and I would sue also. People have a tendancy to bring about change when it hits them in their wallet.

  • circlecity Nov 21, 2008

    Osbert was here before St Clair came to cherry hospital so he of all people should know what is going on at cherry hospital but never left the admin building but St Clair is out and about talking with patient and staff now and before this happen but he can't do it all. whe people see something going on should report this to the supervisor.

  • circlecity Nov 21, 2008

    To jonesjoyful, things were like this before Jack and Bonnie came to Cherry. There were lazy people here when the other directors and nursing supervisors were here. Jack and Bonnie go to the wards but they can not be everywhere. They have made a deferent since they have been here. But people can only see the negative. Progess takes time Jack and Bonnie have been here only just a few years and it takes a long time to correct something wrong when the others let bad things just happen.

  • cameragirl Nov 21, 2008

    It seems that all of DHHS is having problems, not just the mental health system. Other departments within DHHS are having to make up that $800,000 per month. That means that other programs are suffering because the Mental Health Department cannot get their act together. It appalls me to see what is happening to our citizens that need help. The legislature voted to privatize the system and not keep it with local agencies. We know how that worked out. Who's idea was that anyway?

    If Gov. Perdue doesn't start at the top of DHHS and work her way down to within difference agencies then she will have let the good people of the State of NC down. Let's see what she does in January. Leave it Status Quo or clean house.

  • circlecity Nov 21, 2008

    Things like this did not start when this man died. People in state hospital have been doing this for years but have not been caught. Why doesn't other hospital have cameras where thing can be check out by other people to make sure everything is ok

  • babyblue2 Nov 21, 2008

    NE Raleigh.....you are exactly right; no accountability. BUT, there will come the day that they will have to be accountable for their actions when they stand before their maker. there will be no way out of it then. the Lord already knows the deal!!

  • lilwil Nov 21, 2008

    Apparently not too outraged. If they were so outraged, this wouldn't be a problem right now.

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