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State cracks down on patient abuse, neglect

Posted February 23, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— To reduce problems that have plagued North Carolina's psychiatric hospitals, state officials have instituted a zero-tolerance  policy toward employees found to have abused or neglected patients.

"We're going to really take a hard line that, if we understand there's abuse or neglect of a patient, then we're going to remove the employee or employees," Secretary of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler said.

Mental health system adopts get-tough policy

The crack down was one of Cansler's first moves after Gov. Beverly Perdue put him in charge of the troubled mental health system last month.

"If we find the abuse and neglect did not occur, then we can reinstate (an employee), but we're not going to allow people in our hospitals to mistreat patients," he said.

Since he put the policy in place almost three weeks ago, two employees at Central Regional Hospital and three temporary employees at Cherry Hospital have been fired. More than a half-dozen other employees are on paid leave pending investigations into abuse or neglect allegations.

DHHS has also followed up with law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal charges when appropriate, a procedure Perdue said she supports.

"I will personally see that the person is punished," she said of any employee found to have abused or neglected a patient. "It's just not going to happen anymore on my watch."

Advocates for the disabled say Perdue's administration has sent a much stronger message than that of former Gov. Mike Easley, a change they say was desperately needed.

"An early grade would be an A," Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, said of Cansler. "He's sending a clear message that he means it."

Smith was a vocal critic of past policies, but she met with Cansler last week and said she is encouraged by what she sees.

"(Psychiatric hospital employees) have to realize there's a consequence (to abuse or neglect), and we're really talking about a cultural change," she said.

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  • ileesa33 Feb 27, 2009

    I applaud the no tolerance view taken on this subject, but find it unfortunate that Mr. Cansler will not take the same views on issues involving DSS, its employees, and county offices and their illegal and unethical behavior. I recently wrote Mr. Cansler about concerns I had involving the Wilkes County DSS and even sent him copies of documents forged and falsified by them. Mr. Cansler replied to me stating that he has no control over county offices, I beg to differ, NCGS 108A, gives Mr. Cansler control over county offices and the North Carolina courts have held "It is axiomatic that the principal controls the agent. See State v. Weaver, 359 N.C. 246, 258, 607 S.E.2d 599, 606 (2005 (3) the nature of the relationship would be destroyed if the agent were capable of acting on the principal's behalf without being subject to the principal's authority and direction."184 NC App 183 (06-945 June 19, 2007)" Mr. Cansler do your job!
    My story is at http://stopcorruptdss.wordpress.com

  • Ladybug Feb 24, 2009

    Why has it taken so long for the State to recognize these problems. And, I agree, the Nursing homes need to be included as places to monitor very closely. The patients in both areas need to be protected, but the nurses and attendants need to be protected as well when they are attacked. We have to find a win-win for both sides.

    What was a 12 yr old doing in a place for adults?

  • udoowutchyalike Feb 24, 2009

    This is sad that they have to report on something like this, shouldn't there always be a zero tolerance for stuff like this??

  • JeninNC Feb 24, 2009

    Why don't they do the same thing with nursing homes. My grandmother had a stroke so she cannot speak nor walk anymore. We didn't have a choice but to put her in a dependent living place. Well since she's been there they have let her fall out of her bed (had to go to the hospital she had a huge lump on her head), left her unattended in her wheel chair where she tried to get up and was choking on the lap harness she slid down and it caught her throat. Now someone has stolen the gold bracelet right off of her wrist and left a bruise and because she cannot speak she couldn't scream. We did ask if she knew who it was and she shook her head yes. The state needs to crack down on assited living places, it's horrible. SOrry i know this is off topic but they need to check on abuse and neglect in the assited living places as well.

  • terrie Feb 24, 2009

    Apparently this doesn't include making child patients live in slum conditions. Read the morning paper Lanier.

  • terrie Feb 23, 2009

    No patient should ever be abused. No employee should be abused. Wearing badges that say no abuse and saying "zero tolerance" won't solve this very serious problem. The state needs to find ways to retain good staff members and train new ones properly. It needs to relieve health care techs who have the most patient contact and get paid the least. These technicians are expected to work 12 hour shifts with little or no breaks. There schedules change constantly. The mental health system pays 6 figures to psychiatrists who may see a patient once a week and who are accountable to no one. The techs get little money and even less respect. They are thrown to the wolves when the word abuse is mentioned. No patient should ever be abused, but let's solve the problem from the top, not by stepping on the already overburdened shoulders of those in the trenches.

  • Qwerty27807 Feb 23, 2009

    As a *former* employee in a psyhciatric hospital, I can assure you everyone in the milleau has rights, EXCEPT THE STAFF.

    You can get beat by a patient, but if you defend yourself, it's labeled "abuse", which now has criminal implications.

    One nurse I worked with was almost choked out by a patient, but because she punched his genitals (to release the hold) she was eventually reprimanded for "not using appropriate non-violent crisis interventions before the incident escalated".

    Less and less people (who have options) now choose the state psych centers as their workplaces. I'm one of them.

  • CherryDarling Feb 23, 2009

    State cracks down on patient abuse, neglect???

    Really?... When???