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.
In the case of the Unity Center it is both interesting and troubling to note that “the center’s safety, security and emergency protocol was contradictory or never completed,” according to The Oregonian. “Serious problems occurred for the year-and-a-half the center was first open, including sexual assaults, fights, escapes and two deaths.” It strains belief that no one noticed these things, and since almost anyone working in a mental health center is governed by Oregon’s mandatory reporting laws the question of accountability needs to be addressed. As a Portland abuse and neglect lawyer this is a clear example of a case where our civil courts offer victims and their families remedies that the criminal justice system often cannot deliver. Chapter 124 of the Oregon Revised Statutes offers detailed definitions of civil actions for abuse of vulnerable persons and the conditions under which they can be brought. As detailed in ORS 124.105 abuse and neglect on the part of caregivers is an actionable offense. In the case of Unity it is worth asking whether the center’s ultimate owner, Legacy Health, acted with due care in staffing and managing the facility – especially when one considers how quickly things apparently went wrong. The decision to retain the center’s director as an adviser to the parent company also calls into question Legacy’s ultimate commitment to patient safety over profits. We all owe it to ourselves to pay close attention to this case as it unfolds.
Oregon Department of Human Services: How to Report Abuse and Neglect
Oregon Department of Human Services: Mandatory Reporting