A story published this week in The Oregonian focuses on the suicide of a teenage boy who was living in a Corvallis residential treatment facility and on accusations that the facility falsified care records in an attempt to evade responsibility for its actions. There are broader issues also raised by the case, however, and I would like to take a few moments to examine both the issues raised by the newspaper and the ones that also merit our attention.
According to The Oregonian the boy, age 15, died last August. A state investigation showed that he was supposed to be closely monitored while in the facility, with staff checking on him every 15 minutes. Though the care center’s records indicated he had slept through the night, a state investigation showed that he had been left alone for 40 minutes at one point that evening despite having “told staff earlier in the evening that he was suicidal and had been bleeding from self-inflicted arm wounds.” The newspaper adds that the investigation turned up other instances in which “patients told regulators they also had gone without scheduled check-ins by the center’s employees.”
The focus of the newspaper story is on the alleged falsification of records and this is obviously a serious issue. If proper, legally required, records are not kept by caregivers and facilities it is impossible for patients to get the treatment they need and extremely difficult for cases of medical malpractice or nursing home abuse and neglect to be proven either while they are unfolding or after the fact. To be clear: this is an extremely important issue and one where it is critical to everyone’s health and well-being that federal, state and local regulators do their jobs.
The case outlined in The Oregonian, however, also raises broader issues of care and negligence. I wrote about these in reference to nursing homes last month, Chapter 124 of the Oregon Revised Statutes lays out clear standards that care facilities must follow. These apply to psychiatric care facilities just as much as they apply to nursing homes. Under Section 124.105 and 124.110 care facilities and the people who manage them have a responsibility to prevent physical assaults or threats, to see to it that patients and other vulnerable persons are not neglected. This duty extends to safeguarding the financial interests of patients and vulnerable persons when it is within the power of the care facility and its staff to do so.
As an Oregon attorney, safeguarding the rights of vulnerable people both here and in Washington State has always been my top priority. Running a care facility is a significant responsibility and the obligations that come with it are not to be taken lightly. Too often, however, individuals and management companies see it simply as a way of making money. When this happens corners are cut, revenue becomes more important than patient welfare and people suffer unnecessarily.
Oregon Revised Statutes: Chapter 124