New Records Shed Light On Investigation At Eastern State Hospital After Patient Murder
by Kelsey Watts, KHQ Local News Anchor/Reporter - bio | email
MEDICAL LAKE, Wash – It's been almost exactly three months since a psychiatric patient at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake murdered another patient by strangling him, and newly obtained records are giving us our first glimpse into the hospital walls in the weeks that followed.
Court records show patient Amber Roberts told hospital staffers "I murdered someone but you'll have to find him." They found the body of fellow-patient Duane Charley in a room down the hall within the Forensic Services Unit – a housing unit for patients who have been convicted of a crime or acquitted of one by reason of insanity.
In the weeks that followed, The Joint Commission, which regulates Eastern State Hospital made a surprise visit, and found a number of concerns with regard to patient safety.
In a 32-page report obtained by KHQ, the Joint Commission found an "immediate threat to life due to the lack of safety and security on the inpatient psychiatric units in regards to contraband, unattended cords, electronics like boom boxes, karaoke machines, etc not secured" at ESH, and that "your survey findings have met criteria for preliminary denial of accreditation."
Among the safety risks found, were "patient rooms with up to five electrical cords," "an unattended thick long leather belt on a bed," an "unattended karaoke machine with many thick strong cords in a day room that was not able to be visualized by a hall monitor staff person about 65 feet away."
In addition, after the November 2012 patient strangulation murder, The Joint Commission found "there have been no adjustments in the manner in which cords are allowed on the units, even though this appears this is such an obvious risk" and that such cords could be used for "hanging or choking."
When The Joint Commission asked hospital leaders why such safety risks weren't addressed after the murder, "it was cited that various hospital factions would be troubled such as the patients and union if leadership acted more proactively to removed some of the safety risks."
The report also shows "the leadership stated verbal agreement that hospital was not safe."
Records also show there have been 40 patient deaths over the last three years, who are "patients with multiple complex medical problems which other facilities refuse to take for treatment. This facility may not have the expertise or equipment to manage their care."
These concerns and others are what lead The Joint Commission to deny ESH's accreditation.
However, it did another surprise visit in early February, and found that most of the safety concerns have since been fixed. While there were still a few remaining concerns such as "exposed plumbing which were ligature risks" and that "sink faucets were capable of supporting hanging." An additional concern was "laundry bags, lined with plastic, were found in shower rooms and some patient bedrooms. The bags were not porous and could be used for suffocation."
After that visit, The Joint Commission recommended Eastern State Hospital get its accreditation back, pending those last few safety fixes. An official decision is expected to be made next month.
Murder suspect Amber Roberts remains in the Spokane County Jail, and is due back in court in March. No trial date has yet been set.
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