Escape of Eastern State patient during trip to fair leads to suspensions, demotion
Seven Eastern State Hospital employees have been disciplined following investigations into the September escape of a criminally committed patient from a field trip to the Spokane County Interstate Fair, state officials said Wednesday.
None of the disciplined employees, whose identities and positions were not disclosed, was fired as a result of the “systemic meltdown” at the mental health facility in Medical Lake, said Richard Kellogg, director of the state Division of Mental Health Systems.
Kellogg and his boss, Susan Dreyfus, secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services, appeared at a news conference at Eastern State Hospital, at which they discussed public safety improvements made since the escape of Phillip Paul, 47.
Paul, a paranoid schizophrenic, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1987 killing of a 78-year-old Sunnyside, Wash., woman. On Sept. 17, he walked away from a group of 30 so-called “forensic patients” visiting the fair, launching a three-day manhunt before his capture in rural Klickitat County.
Forensic patients are committed for evaluation of their mental competency, to restore competency so they can stand trial or as a result of a court finding of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Hospital administrator Hal Wilson resigned shortly after the incident.
Largely as a result of the Paul episode, the Legislature passed a law, signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, restricting outings for forensic patients and mandating notification to law enforcement before such outings occur.
Kellogg said the disciplined employees included both administrators and rank and file. The punishments ranged from oral and written reprimands to suspensions without pay. One employee was demoted.
The incident was investigated by the Washington State Patrol and DSHS.
The disciplinary actions resulted from inadequate assessment of patient risk before the escape and delays in notifying law enforcement afterward, Kellogg said.
Three of the employees disciplined were members of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said Greg Davis, president of Local 782.
“We may pursue grievances,” Davis said, adding that two of the union members disciplined “were not even supervisory.”
Dreyfus said the actions taken against the seven staff members were an “appropriate” response to what investigators found.
In addition, she and Kellogg cited several policies or procedures adopted by both Eastern and Western state hospitals following the recommendations of a public safety review panel.
They include performing adequate risk assessment of forensic patients, the chief administrator’s approval of all leaves and increased security on and off the hospital’s campus.
For example, group outings from forensic wards will be limited to four people, the outings will be ordered for therapeutic purposes only, and the trips will avoid places and events heavily attended by families.
“We are going back to policy that had not been followed before,” Kellogg said.