- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Investigations have been launched at Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital after unauthorized photos of a patient were found on an employee’s personal phone.

The photos were discovered on a nursing assistant’s phone on Oct. 3, but police were not notified until Oct. 11 and the Washington state Department of Health wasn’t told until Oct. 24, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.

The law and hospital policy require immediate notification about such issues.

On Tuesday, almost a month after the discovery, Western State Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange sent out an “urgent reminder” to employees saying they must immediately report suspected patient abuse, neglect, abandonment, and financial or sexual exploitation.

The hospital was already under scrutiny by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over concerns involving patient safety. Officials at the 800-bed facility have signed a detailed agreement with federal regulators to fix safety problems or lose millions of federal dollars.

Those regulators and state inspectors launched an investigation into the photo allegations on Friday.

Julius Bunch, a regional branch manager for CMS, said the agency could not comment further.

Sharon Moysiuk, spokeswoman for the Department of Health, said the question of whether or not the reporting law was followed would be part of the investigation.

Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, said there was confusion among staff members because the employee resigned.

“And the person who had the photo reportedly left town for several days, so no one from the hospital was able to view it,” Spears said.

Lt. Chris Lawler, a spokesman for the Lakewood Police Department, which has a contract with the hospital to respond to assaults, escapes and other issues, said its own investigation will examine whether any crime was committed.

“From the initial statement we received on the 11th, it is unclear if a crime was actually committed versus a WSH policy violation, but the investigation should reveal exactly what happened,” Lawler said.

When the hospital learned a staff member had photos of a patient, he was immediately re-assigned to nursing administration duties with no patient contact, Spears said.

He resigned on Oct. 3, she said. The hospital completed an administrative report of the incident and referred the allegations to the investigations office.

In an internal email dated Oct. 20 and acquired by AP, Spears acknowledged that the reporting process was improper.

She told an agency employee that anytime there is a crime on hospital property, it’s reported to Lakewood police. They also must notify the health department regarding the employee’s license, she said.

“Apparently that wasn’t done today,” she said.

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An earlier version of this story said the staff member resigned on Oct. 12. The story has been corrected to show that the staff member resigned on Oct. 3.

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