Articles Posted in Injuries to Minors

Last month I wrote about the problems plaguing Portland’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health.  According to The Oregonian, serious reports of neglect and abuse began to emerge almost as soon as the facility opened in 2017. In short order there was evidence of at least 16 incidents that ought to have been reported to police but were not. Now, only a few weeks later, the center is in the news again, with the paper reporting that its director has stepped down. “Legacy Health, which operates Unity, gave no explanation for her departure… although she will stay on as an advisory member of the Unity Board of Managers.”

As the paper outlines, “within the first month of opening, Unity staff reported instances of neglect and abuse within the facility. A federal and state investigation, started in spring 2018, eventually found that staff were poorly trained and underworked.” This, at what was routinely described as one of the state’s premier mental health facilities.

This incident raises serious questions about Oregon’s regulation and oversight of health care facilities. I have been covering the issue in this blog for several years and, more importantly, it has been the subject of some excellent investigative reporting by a number of Oregon media outlets. It is worth asking, however, why these issues never seem to go away. The mandatory reporting obligations of almost all staff members and even many of the people simply passing through a facility like Unity (medical or law enforcement professionals who might visit, for example) ought to offer strong protection for patients but, clearly, they do not (see links below for more information on mandatory reporting as well as the numbers to call to report abuse and neglect). This is where Oregon’s civil and criminal laws enter the picture. They are designed to prevent abuse in nursing homes, mental care centers and similar facilities.

This week The Oregonian carried the extraordinary story of a man who “was arraigned on 34 charges for allegedly recording colleagues at the Banana Republic Factory Store” on NE Cascades Parkway near the Portland airport. The 34-year-old allegedly placed hidden cameras in the women’s restroom at the store and recorded video of dozens of partially naked women, including children.

What is especially shocking is the revelation that the man had faced similar allegations at his previous job as a pharmacist with Kaiser Permanente. Last month the suspect “was arraigned on 71 similar charges for allegedly recording 51 men and women using the unisex bathrooms and changing rooms at the Kaiser Permanente facility” on Portland’s Northeast 138thAvenue. The man was fired after another employee “found a camera” in one of the bathrooms.

The article notes that some of the employees from the Banana Republic store are considering a civil suit. Two areas bear particularly close examination. First, there is the question of whether the Banana Republic store did everything it could to prevent this man, or anyone else, from invading employees’ privacy by installing secret cameras in the restroom. We need to know more about the nature of the cameras, where they were positioned, how they operated and how long they were in place. Most importantly, we need to consider what the store could have done to prevent this and other forms of employee misconduct. The U.S. Department of Labor’s website on workplace health and safety (see link below) lays out the standards all employers are expected to uphold. Difficult questions clearly need to be asked about how the store managed to get itself into this position in the first place.

A recent investigation by The Oregonian found “that county employees had received reports of serious neglect or abuse” at what the newspaper describes as the city’s “premier mental health facility,” the Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Northeast Portland. These reports began to come in “within months of its opening in 2017.” In 16 cases “a police report should have been filed but none was found.”

This scandal fits a wider pattern that I have been writing about for several years. In day care centers, prisons and, now, mental health facilities people who have a legal obligation to watch for abuse are failing to do so. As I noted in a blog more than a year ago, laws that we often think of as focused on child abuse are, in fact, designed to protect vulnerable people more generally. Section 419B.005 of Oregon’s legal code sets standards for care and extends these to all forms of abuse and neglect. This state statute compliments 42 USC 1983, part of the federal legal code. Together, they make protection from abuse a civil right.

It offers little reassurance that once the cases were uncovered a spokesman for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s office told The Oregonian “thankfully that number (16) is relatively low compared to what we fear we may find.”

Most of my recent blogs on injuries to children have focused on day care centers. A recent article in The Oregonian, that many of the same legal issues apply to older children as well, especially teenagers. These involve both ORS Chapter 124, which covers the abuse of vulnerable people, and a broader set of laws focused on the state’s responsibility to keep the public informed.

The newspaper article focuses on a 14-year-old who arrived in a hospital emergency room with a level of blood alcohol “that would have killed many adults.” The Oregonian reports that “Oregon child protection workers decided not to investigate” this incident, despite being provided with the name of the adult who had supplied the alcohol. The boy later died after being “struck and killed by a pickup truck on US-101 while drinking with friends.”

The paper goes on to note: “Any time a child dies from likely abuse or neglect within a year of child welfare workers being asked to check on the child, the public should be informed. Oregon law requires the state to do a prompt review and disclose what went wrong.”

A recent announcement from the American Academy of Pediatrics merits the attention of every parent here in the Pacific Northwest. As reported in the magazine Contemporary Pediatrics the AAP “has changed the age recommendations regarding rear-facing car seats, advising that children remain rear-facing for as long as possible.”

As the article notes, the long-standing guidance for new parents has been to place babies in rear-facing car seats until the age of two. New research, however, showed that “at all agers examined, rear-facing car seat use was associated with a decreased risk for injury; the number overall were insufficient to confidently recommend a specific age to transition. Consequently, the policy, specifically recommending age 2 years, needed to be changed.”

The article quotes an Oregon scientist – Benjamin Hoffman, a senior professor and administrator at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland – saying: “We knew that if our policy said rear-facing until age 2 and we could not back up specifically… we needed to change our guidance to reflect the best available evidence.”

A recent Oregonian article outlined a North Portland accident involving a 13-year-old girl that could easily have been prevented if local officials had paid more attention to the concerns of Portland parents. As the newspaper reports, the girl was struck by a car while crossing at the intersection of North Russell Street and Flint Avenue. “The girl suffered a leg injury and was taken to a hospital,” the paper reports.

What makes this story stand out is the fact that the unmarked crosswalk near Harriet Tubman Middle School has been identified by both Portland Bureau of Transportation officials and Portland school officials as a potential trouble spot – one that ought to have a marked crosswalk. The Oregonian reports local transportation officials had visited this very intersection only “a couple of weeks” before the accident. The paper quotes a spokesman for the Bureau of Transportation saying: “We believe it’s a good place for a marked crosswalk.”

As the newspaper notes, “in Oregon, every intersection is legally a crosswalk, even if there’s no paint on the asphalt.” That means the girl was crossing the street legally – and doing so in a place that had been flagged by area parents on several occasions since the Tubman school’s recent reopening.

A recent article in the Oregonian detailed the unfolding story of a four-month-old baby who died at an illegal day care center in Hood River and the disturbing degree of information the state had about it in the months leading up to the tragedy.

The newspaper reports that the baby boy was the youngest of ten children being cared for at the facility. Its owners had their license revoked last year after it emerged that they “gave children ‘little white pills’ of melatonin so that they would sleep during nap times according to court documents.” But after being shut down in 2017 the three owners “soon opened the business back up, this time with a different name.”

All three women have now “been indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and first-degree criminal mistreatment,” according to the paper. Yet that fact does not make the disturbing questions surrounding this case go away. In the wake of the scandal surrounding Southeast Portland’s Sunnyside Sprouts daycare the state was supposed to have put in place better policies. These were designed to address the question of child care providers moving from one jurisdiction to another in an effort to conceal disciplinary action or the suspension of licenses. They were also designed to make it easier for parents to find out about worrying regulatory or licensing issues. The case of Mama Shell’s Daycare (which became “Mama Bear’s”) in Hood River clearly indicates that these new rules are not being implemented in the way most of us thought they would be.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to push the legal system to close a loophole. In the wake of a 2013 accident that left two little girls dead, Governor Kate Brown has done just that: signing a new law Thursday that clarifies the legal obligations of hit-and-run drivers.

“Anna and Abigail’s Law” is named in honor of 6 and 11-year old sisters from Forest Grove “who were struck as they played in a leaf pile” in 2013, according to an article in The Oregonian. It requires “drivers who suspect that they may have caused personal or property damage after a collision to report it to police.”

“Lawmakers pursued the change after the woman connected with felony hit-and-run in connection to the case… had her three-year probation overturned by the Oregon Court of Appeals,” according to the newspaper. At the time, Oregon law did not “require a driver to return to the scene of an accident if he or she learned someone was injured or killed after the fact. In granting (the) appeal the court also ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to establish without a reasonable doubt that (the driver) had reason to believe anyone was hurt after she ran over the leaf pile.”

A three-year-old girl was taken to a Corvallis hospital last week after falling off a ride at the Benton County Fair, according to a report from Eugene TV station KVAL. An article posted on the station’s website notes that “deputies received reports that the child fell a short distance off a ride that spun in a circle. The child was alone on the ride.”

“Preliminary investigations have revealed that the lap restraint meant to secure the child failed,” the station writes. “After the accident, the ride was shut down.”

We are at the time of year where traveling carnivals and county fairs are regular fixtures of American life. As such, this accident is a reminder of the degree to which regulation of these potentially dangerous rides varies significantly from state to state (and, to some extent, within states). As a 2016 article from The Oregonian noted: “When it comes to state carnival ride regulation, Oregon falls somewhere in the middle, between California – a state with a dense thicket of amusement park and carnival regulations – and Alabama, where regulation is essentially nonexistent.” (if you are travelling this summer it is worth clicking on the link to that article at the end of this post and scrolling down to the map detailing the extent of carnival regulation state-by-state).

Late last week The Oregonian, citing the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, reported that “a Portland man died and two others were injured when a motorcycle and car collided… in Fairview.” The accident took place late at night on Northeast Halsey Street. According to the paper, a westbound motorcycle carrying both an adult and a child “collided with an eastbound car at Halsey and Seventh streets.”

The motorcycle’s driver was pronounced dead at the scene. His passenger (whose age was not announced) was taken “to a local hospital with serious injuries. The car driver had minor injuries and was also taken to a hospital.”

Many of the details of this incident remain unclear. Notably, the media reports do not say in which lane (eastbound or westbound) took place, making it difficult at this point to speculate about who may have been at fault. Two things, however, are clear. First, the accident serves as a reminder of the special responsibilities adults have when they have children as passengers in motor vehicles, or are responsible for an accident in which a child is killed or injured. Second, this incident highlights some disturbing loopholes in Oregon’s child safety laws when it comes to motorcycles.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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