Local News

State mental hospital cited for escaped patient

Posted April 1, 2011 3:04 p.m. EDT

— Federal regulators plan to cite Cherry Hospital after a patient at the state psychiatric facility escaped three weeks ago, state officials said Friday.

The unidentified patient escaped March 12, and police returned the patient to the Goldsboro hospital 10 days later, according to Mark Van Sciver, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Cherry Hospital administrators immediately reviewed procedures and put new policies and training in place, Van Sciver said.

Officials from the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services inspected the hospital this week and requested additional policies and training, he said. The regulators also notified hospital officials that they would recommend a finding of "immediate jeopardy" for the facility.

The finding indicates that a problem exists at the hospital that regulators feel compromises patient health or safety.

Hospital officials submitted their initial corrective actions to regulators, who accepted it, Van Sciver said. Once hospital administrators receive the written report, they will submit their final plan of action, he said.

Cherry Hospital has been plagued in recent years by charges of patient abuse and questionable deaths.

In 2008, federal regulators revoked the hospital's certification, costing it an estimated $8 million to $10 million in federal funding.

The federal agency reacted after the death of Steven Sabock, a 50-year-old patient who choked on his medication, hit his head and was left sitting in a chair for 22 hours, unattended and without food. Surveillance video shows employees playing cards and watching TV a few feet from the dying patient.

In the wake of Sabock's death, an entire ward was shut down, the hospital's director resigned, and consultants were hired to retrain staff. State officials instituted a zero-tolerance policy toward employees found to have abused or neglected patients.

The hospital nearly lost federal funding again last year after an incident in which a mental health technician dragged a 22-year-old patient and covered his face with a pillow to keep him from spitting while staff tried to restrain him.