Report reveals crucial points with W.Va. behavioral well being amenities
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – A new report from the West Virginia Department of Health and Personnel (DHHR) reveals the dire conditions some of the state’s most vulnerable people are forced to live in, sometimes resulting in death and serious injury.
Behavioral health centers are designed to care for people with mental, behavioral, or addictive disorders who require a higher level of care than other basic facilities. The DHHR report released on Monday said the number and severity of incidents have increased in recent years, reaching “crisis levels”.
The report includes descriptions of incidents in which at least three people were killed and many others injured in the facilities.
A 19-year-old who should have been under constant surveillance was poisoned after drinking antifreeze unsecured in a facility’s truck. He was not given medical attention for more than 12 hours despite telling staff what happened.
Another child, who was also supposed to be under constant supervision at his Kanawha County facility, was able to get keys to a car owned by the facility and died in a major accident.
A group home in Greenbrier County admitted a patient who was previously in jail for child molestation. The staff failed to provide the necessary supervision and the patient allegedly molested a roommate within days of entering the house.
“The physical abuse these people suffered was absolutely wrong,” said Del. Matthew Rohrbach (R-Cabell) after seeing the report during the Legislative Oversight Commission’s Health and Personnel Responsibility meeting on Monday. “It doesn’t even meet the standards of basic human dignity.”
“We have moved on to more group home models, but we need to have them safe and secure, where our patients are treated with the dignity they deserve,” said Rohrbach. “We are not a state or a state government that will tolerate what we have seen in this report.”
Rohrbach said it was the most disgusting report he’d seen in his seven years in the House of Representatives. He has already started talking to lawmakers and other lawmakers about how these disabled people can be protected.
The report includes a description of a patient who needed CPR but died when three staff members refused to help them. Another person on suicide watch had surgery after trying to swallow a battery.
“The incidents that OHFLAC published yesterday regarding our homes for the disabled and disadvantaged were terrible and appalling,” said Senator Richard Lindsay (D-Kanawha). “OHFLAC clearly does not have the resources to fulfill its mandate – not surprising given the budget cuts DHHR has seen over the past six years.”
One facility in Cabell County did not train its staff, it simply had staff sign a form stating that they were being trained. The care facility did not begin training people in patient programs and safety protocols until after someone died.
“The DHHR Health Organization Approval and Certification Bureau (OHFLAC) is being informed (of incidents) through various sources,” a DHHR spokesman said in a statement. “This can include, but is not limited to, complaints by telephone, written correspondence, and online. Protection services for adults and children; Organization for protection advocacy; and self-reporting, as required by law, by providers. “
The DHHR said it is also monitoring medical records to make sure a facility is not trying to hide a violation. According to the DHHR report, in 2020 around 20 percent of facilities were cited because they could not prevent clients from getting infections, 10 percent of facilities did not protect patients and their rights, and 9 percent received quotes for questions from the nursing service.
“Complaints are regularly examined and, if necessary, penalties are imposed,” says the DHHR’s statement. “Up to this point, penalties included license bans, a reduction in the census, additional vendor reports and an increased presence of surveys.”
This current system has not prevented people from being injured in the state’s 611 Behavioral Health Centers. New laws to be changed are due to come into effect in June. They will enable the DHHR to punish health care providers for violations and to clarify patient rights issues.
Legislators are concerned that this will not be enough to protect people under the custody of the state, and they are looking for additional measures to protect the most vulnerable people in the community.
“The system is broken and needs a lot of immediate attention,” said Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone). “We need to learn where the breakdowns are and try to find a real solution, including funding, training and staff development.”
“I think you need to look at the criminal charges against these people who commit these crimes,” Rohrbach said. “I think you need to look at a registry that manages to stop these people from working in this industry. I think you need to look at operator fines and create safer facilities. That is just not going to be tolerated. “
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