- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state’s largest mental hospital didn’t properly notify the state Department of Health about reports that a nursing assistant had inappropriate photos of a psychiatric patient on his personal phone, a spokeswoman said Monday.

“We did fail to timely report an allegation of patient abuse by a former staff member to DOH,” Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs Western State Hospital, told The Associated Press in an email.

The alleged photo discovery was made on Oct. 3, but the hospital didn’t report the incident to police until Oct. 11 — and that was during a routine weekly meeting and not a special call or report.

The hospital didn’t tell the Department of Health until Oct. 24.

Hospital officials said the allegation was made by the nursing assistant’s fiancee, who said she had his phone containing the photographs. The hospital immediately re-assigned the employee to a position that would keep him from interacting with patients, Spears said. When a supervisor confronted the nursing assistant that same day, he immediately resigned, Spears said.

The 800-bed hospital in Lakewood is already in trouble with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after safety violations were found. The hospital is under a strict 13- month agreement with the agency to make improvements or risk losing millions of federal dollars.

The allegations sparked an investigation by the police, health officials and federal regulators.

Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange sent a note to staff Friday saying health officials will cite the hospital for “failing to report an allegation of patient abuse in a timely manner.”

New measures for reporting patient abuse will be incorporated into a “Corrective Action Plan” that will be sent to federal regulators later this month, Strange said.

“Our improvement measures will include a Patient Rights: Abuse Investigations and Reporting Workgroup that will review current policies and procedures to ensure we are following all CMS regulations and guidelines,” Strange said.

Lt. Chris Lawler said Monday that their police investigator is still conducting interviews in the case and didn’t know exactly when the probe would be complete.

“Once it’s done, he’ll run it by a prosecutor that he’s been dealing with for consideration of charges,” Lawler said. “After that, we can discuss specifics.”

After reporters pressed the agency last week about reporting the alleged abuse, Strange sent out an “urgent reminder” on Nov. 1 saying each hospital employee is “a mandatory reporter” who must report “suspected abuse, neglect, abandonment, financial or sexual exploitation.”

The investigations will determine whether any state laws were violated in the handling of the case.


Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle

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