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Claims Of Abuse Resurface At Western Washington Hospital
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 12, 2003

TACOMA, WASHINGTON--Seven Western Washington Hospital employees have been removed from their jobs while the Department of Social and Health Services investigates allegations that residents with developmental disabilities have been abused.

DSHS mental health director Karl Brimner told the Tacoma News Tribune that the employees could face discipline ranging from a reprimand or counseling to termination. Two of the employees are at home on paid leave, while five others have been given other assignments.

Agency officials would not disclose the details of the allegations, but Brimner said DSHS may ask the State Patrol to investigate the claims.

The reports of abuse surfaced in mid-June when an outside consultant investigated claims of employee sexual harassment and intimidation at the institution.

"Employees and supervisors alike describe rampant retaliation, favoritism and abuse of power," independent investigator Jan Salisbury of Boise wrote in a July 8 report.

"Patient and other complaints are used as tools to get rid of employees. People are not held accountable for lying, and trusting someone is the exception, not the norm. Complaints about management and the union are often either ignored or punished," Salisbury's report said.

Western Washington Hospital houses 900 people with mental illnesses. Forty-two of them have developmental disabilities.

This is not the first time the institution has faced claims that it abused residents with developmental disabilities.

In 1998, the federal government threatened to withhold funding from Western, in part because it did not have enough employees trained to treat mental patients who also had developmental disabilities. Federal authorities withdrew their threat after the state legislature gave the hospital money to hire more employees.

In 1999, the Washington Protection and Advocacy System sued Western, claiming workers over-used physical and chemical restraints, but provided too little treatment. DSHS agreed to improve conditions for Western's patients. WPAS has continued to monitor conditions for those residents since the suit.

Related article:
"Seven more taken off jobs at Western as abuse inquiry widens" (Seattle Times)


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