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Mental-hospital workers to be retrained after abuse claim

Posted May 6, 2010

— The secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says workers at a troubled state mental hospital will be retrained following an allegation of abuse that went unreported for several days.

"The patient was not harmed. The issue was that they handled it improperly, so we're going to make sure that we're restructuring a whole bunch of training at Cherry Hospital," Lanier Cansler said Thursday. "It really gave us a clue to the fact that they thought they were doing it right."

The intensive training will be for everyone who works at the Goldsboro facility and involve a list of prohibited actions that result in immediate termination, Cansler said.

Troubled mental hospital faces more troubles

Cherry Hospital is in jeopardy of losing approximately $800,000 in federal funding following the incident last month in which a mental health technician dragged a 22-year-old male patient and covered his face with a pillow to keep him from spitting while staff tried to restrain him.

Among the findings in a report by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the hospital "failed to provide care in a safe setting by failing to investigate the allegation of patient abuse in a timely manner" by allowing the same staff member to continue caring for the patient for 19 days after the allegation was reported.

Cansler told members of the Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Joint Legislative Oversight Committee Thursday morning that the incident went unreported for so long, not because staff tried to hide it but because they didn't know they did anything wrong.

No one will lose their job over the case, Cansler said, despite a zero-tolerance policy he put in place soon after taking over the department in 2008.

"I will not hold an employee responsible for doing something improperly if they've never been trained to do it right," he said. "That's our responsibility, and we're going to make sure it happens."

DHHS must now submit a plan of correction detailing the new training by May 21 to CMS, which oversees the federal insurance plans and reimburses hospitals for treating patients under the programs.

The federal agency revoked Cherry Hospital's certification in 2008, when a 50-year-old patient died after staff left him sitting unattended in a chair for nearly 24 hours. The hospital lost an estimated $8 million to $10 million in federal funding as a result.

Three employees were ultimately fired, two resigned and 10 others were disciplined in that incident. Several former employees were also charged with and convicted of physically and sexually assaulting patients in other cases.

Mental health advocates and state officials have blamed a lack of training and inadequate pay as contributing factors to the problems the hospital has faced.

Canser said Gov. Bev Perdue's proposed budget for the next fiscal year provides $500,000 for additional training at state facilities. A federal match would bring the total to around $800,000.


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  • elatsmith May 10, 2010

    Most hospitals do not get the sick sick mental patients that the state does and if they do they ship them to a state facility as soon as they see what they are dealing with. Cherry has patinets that have committed 50 plus unprovoked violent assaults causing at least minor injury all in a years time. Patients do that because they have no consequences for such behavior. Even one such assault in the community ( say at walmart) would get a legal charge jail time etc but if it happens in a state mental facility they can mail staff or peers and usually not even get charged and if they do the judge eventually tosses it out. Nurses quit regularly often just days or weeks after starting. The miracle is noones been killed cause its a near miss daily. Staffing on the wards has been cut 30- 40% but we do have plenty of overpaid management types that never do any patient care so they are never in danger so they could care less how dangerous it is.

  • elatsmith May 10, 2010

    donnaforeman36 all due apologies my comments about not being allowed to lift patients were of course meant for mulecity babe who had commented about waiting for enough staff to lift patient

  • elatsmith May 10, 2010

    also the sad fact is staff cant defend other patients from assault like they are supposed to so poor patients that are not violent get victimized by the aggressive ones. If I saw a felon multiple killer patient stabbing a meeker mild mannered innocent patient with a knife I AM FORBIDDEN BY RULE TO INTERVENE ALONE, I am required to wait for help to arrive. Same thing for a rape in progress, suicide in progress etc. Wait for the media to get video of one of the staff standing by while an old lady patient is getting raped by some thug and hear the outcry BUT THAT IS THE CURRENT RULE makes no sense to staff but we just work there we dont make the rules. Cherry is out of control and staff who speak out get screwed by management. Remember cherry administrators put a sex offender doc in charge as medical director need I say more about how idiotic they are? Many staff work hard to help the patients only to take a beating . Nurses quit after the first day

  • elatsmith May 10, 2010

    donnaforeman36- you obviously have some knowledge in the field but at cherry staff are not allowed to pick up /lift patients so waiting for more help would not help. Also not allowed to put patients on the floor but if patient goes to floor on their own SOMETIMES its ok depending on what administrator reviews the tape there are written rules, unwritten rules, and rules that change depending on which administrator views the tape from their portected vantage point in their office to second guess staff. Many Cherry patients have already killed, raped etc in the community and been found incompetent for trial and they know they can kill or maim staff and never see a courtroom for it- they will tell you this. They purposely bite their cheek or tongue to spit blood on you. Staff have been stabbed, shot, beaten, teeth knocked out, eyes gouged out, hair pulled out, etc. Dozens are out on work comp costing tax payers because the patients know we cannot defend ourselves and behave

  • donnaforeman36 May 10, 2010

    mulecitybabe- I am sorry it is abuse. If it happened in my hospital the staff would be fired and legal charges brought against them. Patients in other parts of the country have died like that. HOWEVER we need to find a way to deal with the spitting problem. I hate being spit on. Put yourself in the place of the patient. In his mind he was defending himself because they were restraining him. Restraints should be a LAST resort and ONLY when a patient is a danger to themselves or has a history of danger to self in seclusion. I have assisted in the restraint of patients in the past. It is always a hard thing to do. I don't know if the Cherry patient should have been restrained but they should not move a patient untill they have enought help to safely lift the patient. You can't drag them. OMG We would be sooooo out of a job and in a court room if we did this. AND we should be.

    "People need to realize that some mental patients are violent and vindictive (not the majority, but some

  • donnaforeman36 May 10, 2010

    The precentage of people in state hospitals that are violent criminals is very small (staff and patients) Most staff are poorly trained and most patients are really sick. This is a bad combination. Thank you Secetary Cansler for seeing the need for more training. My question is will it be better training? We do not have ANY training that truly teaches people to understand mental illness and how it effect the people living with it. Most of the people I work with are good people but times are changing. It is no longer acceptable to use force to get patients to do what you want. We are moving toward a more theraputic approach and away from the punitive control and contain attitude that was common for so long. Mental illness is truly an illness and it must be treated as such. There must be meaningful training for those providing the lion's share of the day to day care of patients. We are in the business of helping people. The state must help those that are direct care staff to un

  • beachlover May 7, 2010

    I wonder what would be considered the correct action....perhaps they should use a hands-off device like the supposed "non-lethal" taser. It might kill the patient with all the drugs in their system, but they wouldn't get charged with abuse or murder. The police have killed quite a few that way.

    Note: I'm not advocating using the taser...just wondering what the appropriate response would be. I saw some police in a tv show use a muzzle on a spitter.

    Sad, but Cherry Hospital is a state hospital..you go there if yuu are poor with no insurance. As someone else said, many of the patients are from our jails and prisons. Not surprising since many mental patients spend a lot of time in jails and prisons too, particularly before diagnosis.

  • WHEEL May 7, 2010

    I think Cansler should be assigned to work on the wards for a couple of weeks instead of sitting in his nice, safe, clean office telling everyone what to do and what a great job HE is doing.

  • affirmativediversity May 6, 2010

    Sorry, BUT you can't justify out and out physical abuse because your job is difficult.

    I don't buy the "management doesn't understand what we have to contend with" tripe...People within your CARE AND CONTROL are just that within YOUR care and control...YOU have ALL THE POWER...resorting to "dragging someone and putting a pillow over his face" SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN...EVEN IF YOU GET NO TRAINING, basic human decency should tell you that's wrong!!!

  • mulecitybabe May 6, 2010

    I don't think people go into the mental health field with the idea of abusing people. In fact, a high percentage of mental health workers have a family member who is mentally ill. My brother is bipolar, and I would never ever even consider harming a person who is mentally ill. However, I do place a high priority on protecting myself and my co-workers from violent patients. The training provided to staff at mental hospitals is insufficient. There is too much emphasis on maintaining a patient's self esteem versus protecting them and us from injury. There needs to be a middle ground, but the people in decision-making positions usually decide from an office, not from the a position of experience in patient care.