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Documents show negligence at state mental hospital

Posted: May 14, 2012 4:30 p.m.
Updated: May 14, 2012 4:30 p.m.

NORWALK, Calif. (AP) - Serious lapses in mental patient care at Southern California's Metropolitan State Hospital include workers sleeping on the job and failing to make patient checks with one of the most egregious cases involving a patient found on the floor with a broken neck, according to internal investigative reports obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

In one case outlined by the reports, by the time psychiatric patient Diane Rodrigues, 52, got to a trauma center hours later, she was paralyzed. She died six months later from related respiratory complications.

The reports show employees at the Norwalk mental hospital south of Los Angeles lied to protect themselves and colleagues, The Times ( ) said.

The Rodrigues case was among about a dozen detailed by a federal court monitor who cited lax medical and psychiatric care at Metropolitan and Napa state hospitals as part of a petition to extend federal government oversight of the two facilities.

Reports of overuse of medication, restraints and poor patient safety led the federal government to sue California five years ago to force changes in four state hospitals. A Los Angeles judge ruled in November that Atascadero State Hospital and Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino will no longer be subject to a patient care consent judgment reached between California and federal officials.

A judge hasn't made a decision on whether to extend the U.S. Justice Department consent judgment governing Metropolitan and Napa.

State Department of Mental Health officials refuse to discuss the Rodrigues case because of ongoing litigation by her family. But the final internal investigation report and five previous drafts obtained by The Times found evidence of gross negligence involving "incompetence, fraud, dishonesty, along with numerous policy and procedure violations."

Rodrigues was a schizophrenic placed at Metropolitan in September 2009 by a conservator to keep her from hurting herself or others. She was known to hurl herself to the floor, and she was placed under constant one-on-one supervision.

On the night of the injury, the nurse assigned to her dosed off and had to be awakened three times, the report said. Federal court monitor Mohamed El Sabaawi wrote that the on-duty Metropolitan State Hospital doctor "delayed treatment for several hours to a person who broke their spine."

Sabaawi wrote that before the Rodrigues incident, he had told the hospital that the doctor "was failing to provide people with minimally adequate care." But the hospital, he said, "ignored my warnings."

The name of the doctor wasn't released.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.




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