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Ward where mental patient died closes at Cherry Hospital

State officials are disciplining a Goldsboro mental hospital's staff and closing one of the facility's wards following the death of a patient who was left unattended for nearly a day.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The ward on which a patient died after he was left unattended for nearly a day is closed, and the 16 Cherry Hospital staff members on duty during that time have been disciplined, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dempsey Benton said Friday.

Closing the ward at the Goldsboro facility reduces adult admissions from 90 to 67 beds and reduces Cherry Hospital's overall bed capacity from 274 to 251, but allows the hospital to have two registered nurses on the remaining three wards for each shift, which is now standard, Benton said.

He added that the department will look into whether all or part of the closed ward can be re-opened if it can meet the two-nurse requirement.

The closure followed a federal report, released Monday, that states Steven Sabock, of Roanoke Rapids, was found unresponsive in a hospital bed in April after hospital workers left him in a chair for 22 hours and, at one point, he choked on medication. An autopsy concluded he died from a pre-existing heart condition.

A security video camera recorded the incident and showed hospital staff watching TV and playing cards a few feet away.

Sabock sat, unattended, in the room for four work shifts, ate nothing the day he died and had little food in the three days preceding his death, the 47-page report also said. Workers were supposed to be closely monitoring his condition and may have forged documents that said they had.

One of the staff members involved in the incident surrounding Sabock's death has resigned, and the others have been disciplined with punishments ranging from counseling to five days' suspension.

They have also been removed from direct patient care and given other assignments for at least 60 days, Benton said. They are also required to receive additional training and re-education. If they are deemed ready to return to direct care, they will do so under training supervisors.

"This level of disciplinary action is insufficient," Benton said. "Hospital management is being directed to re-examine the disciplinary actions."

Not all of the staff were involved, he said, and those who were not will be reassigned to the other three wards to improve staffing supervision and quality of care.

Benton also said the state will provide ongoing external management oversight at Cherry Hill for the next 90 days to monitor wards for proper documentation of patient care, increasing training on treatment protocols and assisting in training that will improve the quality of supervision and nursing care for patients.

Federal officials have threatened to cut off funding because of Sabock's death and a report that a physician punched a patient after the teen bit the doctor.

The state has until Aug. 23 to file a report with the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services detailing what changes officials are making.

If the center rejects the report, federal funds will be cut off Sept. 1.

Cherry Hospital, in Goldsboro, serves more than 2,700 people a year in 36 eastern counties and employs more than 1,100 people.

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