Oregon Settles Lawsuit Over Patient's Restraint Death;
Senate Leader Calls For Urgent Change At Psychiatric Institution
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 28, 2004
SALEM, OREGON--The Portland Oregonian has revealed more problems this week at Oregon State Hospital -- problems that could cause the 121-year-old institution to face the same fate as the former Fairview Training Center, including oversight by federal officials and closure.
The paper also reported that a family has settled a lawsuit with the state over the August 2001 restraint-related death of an OSH patient.
On Saturday, the paper detailed a letter in which Peter Courtney, the President of Oregon's Senate, told his fellow senators that conditions at the aging facility, including overcrowding, understaffing, and a history resident abuse, make the mental health system vulnerable to being taken over by the courts.
"The matter will be taken out of our hands if we do not act quickly," Courtney wrote.
Courtney added later that a meeting with the hospital's superintendent, Dr. Marvin Fickle, was "deeply troubling".
The institution, located in a residential area just a mile from the state capitol complex, currently houses 760 people. Even though Oregon spends half of its annual mental health budget on OSH -- to house less than one percent of Oregon's patients who need psychiatric services -- much of the facility has deteriorated to the point where entire buildings can no longer be used.
"We've been getting away with this for decades," Courtney wrote.
On Sunday, the Oregonian noted that, despite several studies showing people with mental illness recover better in community settings, OSH patients are often held at the facility for months or years after they have been determined appropriate for community placements. In September, the hospital housed at least 130 patients who had been cleared to move into group homes or assisted living centers.
But the state has been reluctant to battle with the employee unions that represent 1,150 OSH employees, the paper reported.
Thursday's Oregonian reported that the state has settled a lawsuit with the family of Ben Bartow, a resident of OSH who died after being restrained by staff members on August 12, 2001.
Bartow, 41, who had paranoid schizophrenia, got into a confrontation with a psychiatric aide after he was told he could not have a can of soda pop. The suit claimed that between six and ten staff members then formed a "dog pile" on top of Bartow.
Lawyers, witnesses and state records indicated that other patients asked staff members to get off of Bartow, but that they refused. Bartow was then injected with tranquilizers until he went limp. Workers then placed Bartow in handcuffs and ankle restraints, carried him to a seclusion room, and strapped him to a bed.
Sometime later, a staff member noticed that Bartow was unconscious and was not breathing. A nurse was not able to revive him.
A medical examiner determined that Bartow died from a heart attack brought on by the restraint.
The state agreed to pay Bartow's family $200,000 in the settlement agreement, along with supplying each ward at OSH with a emergency crash cart to help resuscitate patients.
"The amount of money wasn't the reason we sued," said Bartow's sister, Loyette. "We wanted to let the hospital know that what had happened there wasn't right and, if we could, bring about some changes for the other patients who are still there."
Last month, the Oregonian wrote a multi-part series on the documented cases of sexual abuse of young people with mental illnesses at Ward 40, OSH's adolescent unit. The paper reported that the institution had private places where patients could be abused in seclusion; hired staff members with histories of sexual assault; failed to immediately call police or child protective officials when abuse was suspected or discovered; blamed young victims for their abuse; removed whistle-blowers who reported the crimes; and paid victims more than $1 million to keep them from telling their stories to the media.
Fairview Training Center, the state's primary institution housing people with developmental disabilities, was closed in February 2000 to settle suits filed in the 1980's. Disability rights advocates and the U.S. Department of Justice had sued claiming that Fairview staff violated the residents' civil rights.
"Senator fears loss of hospital" (The Oregonian)
"Oregon's high-priced hospital of hurt" (The Oregonian)
"Suit brings changes at Oregon State Hospital" (The Oregonian)
"Sexual Abuse Of Youngsters At State Hospital Revealed" (Inclusion Daily Express -- Sept. 21, 2004)
"So long, Fairview" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)