Raleigh, N.C. — After years of reports of abuse at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, Lanier Cansler, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, instituted a zero-tolerance policy for abuse. Now one employee, fired for his actions, is challenging his dismissal and the policy as a whole.
A surveillance video showed the scene that ultimately cost O'Tonious Raynor his job at Cherry Hospital, but his work history might get him his job back.
“My intent was not to abuse the patient,” Raynor said. “My intent was to keep from getting hurt.”
The hospital deemed Raynor's reaction to an out-of-control patient as abuse. Joe Webster, an administrative law judge overseeing the appeal, agreed it was excessive force, but said in his opinion that Raynor should have been suspended, not fired. This isn't the final decision, but the judge pointed to Raynor's good reviews over 13 years.
The surveillance tape shows the overnight hours of March 10 into March 11 when Raynor was watching a patient who suffered from schizophrenia.
“(I was told) that he couldn’t get along with others,” Raynor said.
The patient punched Raynor several times, injuring his eye, when the patient wasn’t allowed to smoke, according to the written record. Raynor pushed the patient down and pinned him against the furniture while standing on the patient's hand in a cast. Raynor then dragged him off.
According to the written account and the tape, it all happened in a common area, and then Raynor dragged the patient down the hall to the bedrooms – out of view of the surveillance cameras.
The record says Raynor hurt the patient's already fractured hand in the process. Raynor's supervisors say his actions crossed the line when he pinned the patient against the furniture instead of getting help.
“There were so many points in that series of events where he could’ve stopped,” said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina. “We support the firing, and we support Secretary (Lanier) Cansler’s zero-tolerance policy of abuse.”
The policy was in reaction to Cherry Hospital's history of problems. One surveillance video showed a patient who was neglected, left sitting in the same chair for about 22 hours with no food, water, medication or a visit to the bathroom. He died that same day. Other abuse and assault cases surfaced there as well.
Smith said she worries the judge's opinion in the Raynor case puts zero-tolerance in jeopardy.
“The only way to break a culture of abuse and neglect is to take very serious action and to demonstrate that it’s not OK,” she said.
Raynor says he tried to call for help that night, but that his personal beeper malfunctioned. In the meantime, he is still collecting workman's comp for his injuries.
“These glasses are a result of that. I lost some vision in my left eye,” he said.
Raynor was never criminally charged. As far as getting his job back, the decision – with the judge's recommendation – goes to the state personnel commission in October.
WRAL asked Cansler if this case would affect his zero tolerance policy. He said decisions such as these make it more difficult for DHHS to meet its obligations to its patients.