Tennessee owner promises 'immediate' improvement of oft-cited psych ward

The head of Woodland Park Hospital's administration says the hospital already has taken 'immediate corrective action' to address the recent round of safety and procedure violations found by Multnomah County and state investigators.

But local mental health advocates say the problems on the hospital's psychiatric ward have been going on for at least three years and should have been addressed long ago.

'We get many complaints from there over the years,' said Bob Joondeph, director of the Oregon Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that provides legal help to mentally ill patients. 'Many people who've been patients there do not speak highly of it. Word gets around in the consumer community, and people have said that they've not felt well treated there.'

The 290-bed acute care hospital at 10300 N.E. Hancock St. has seen a variety of problems in the past three years, including three lawsuits filed by former employees, lengthy on-site reviews and negotiations to contract with the county that did not pan out.

Earlier this month, investigators with the state Office of Mental Health and Addiction Services conducted an inspection and issued a 20-page report noting 16 findings. The state reported instances of patient abuse, policy and procedure violations, and physical safety hazards such as clothing bars in closets that present 'a potential risk for patients to hang themselves.'

The hospital's license could be revoked if it does not correct the problems. Hospital officials have until mid-July to provide written response that the required actions have been completed.

The hospital is owned by Nashville, Tenn.-based Symphony Healthcare, which bought Woodland Park, as well as Eastmoreland Hospital, from Nashville-based HealthMont Inc. in February 2002.

Kenneth Perry, Symphony's president and chief executive officer, issued a written statement Monday: 'The hospital has taken immediate, corrective action covering the full extent of the state's concerns. É Failure to follow proper policy and procedures is simply not acceptable at our hospitals. Patient care and patient safety are the primary concerns at Woodland Park, and we will take the appropriate actions to ensure that all of the state's concerns are addressed.'

Until the problems are addressed, the county will not be admitting psych patients to Woodland Park's acute care unit, said Dr. Peter Davidson, head of the county's mental health program. The county sends fewer than 10 patients there each week, Davidson said, so the temporary loss of the beds will not put a crunch on the county.

It might have been more troublesome two or three years ago when space was so limited that patients waited hours to be treated in emergency rooms, Davidson said. But because of new county efforts such as mental health walk-in clinics, Davidson said, the hospitalization rate has decreased to about a quarter of what it was 15 months ago.

Past troubles raise concern

Previous problems at Woodland Park have included:

• Since November 2001, three former employees have filed civil lawsuits against the hospital, claiming they were fired in retaliation for lobbying for increased safety standards. One of the lawsuits was recently settled for an undisclosed amount, and the other two cases are pending.

• In the summer of 2001, the county was in negotiations with Woodland Park to open a separate wing of 10 secure beds for county psychiatric patients. County officials eventually decided not to sign a contract with the hospital.

• At least one prior on-site review of Woodland Park has cited many of the same safety hazards as the most recent report. In September 2000, the county and state mandated fixes of unsafe conditions related to the hospital's secure hold rooms. By February 2001, the hospital had complied with fixes and was able to admit patients again.

Davidson said he was most concerned by the hospital's repeated calls to the police to deal with disruptive patients.

In his 15-year career in public sector psychiatric administration, he wrote, 'it is my professional opinion that police should never be called to a psychiatric unit except for one purpose. Only if the hospital staff intends to have a person arrested. É Is there any chance that you could institute this as a policy for your hospital?'

Davidson was referring to the March 1, 2001, fatal shooting of Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, who was shot by police in the acute care unit of the former Pacific Gateway Hospital in Sellwood after nurses called police to help restrain him.

Ownership may be an issue

Subsequent investigations uncovered issues of inadequate staffing and policy violations, and Pacific Gateway was eventually shut down by its owner, Nashville-based Behavioral Healthcare Corp.

'Because this kind of homicide had never happened before anywhere in the country,' Davidson wrote to Woodland Park's administration, 'you should be aware that this community is highly sensitive to any possibility of it ever happening again.'

Woodland Park doesn't have a policy for calling the police, the state report said, but it does have an unwritten policy to have officers leave firearms outside the unit for nonemergencies.

'You can't help notice that it's the hospitals that are owned by out-of-state companies are the ones that had the most problems in this town,' Davidson told the Tribune Monday morning. 'I don't know if that's meaningful or just a coincidence. But they're two privately owned, for-profit hospitals.'

State officials looked into issues at Woodland Park during visits June 2 and 3 after a May 25 incident in which a staff member allegedly grabbed a patient from behind and physically moved the patient to a holding room. The patient fell forward under the weight of the employee onto a bed frame and suffered a broken nose. That incident is under investigation.

Contact Jennifer Anderson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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