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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hospital accreditation at risk

Medical Lake facility for mentally ill could be shut down

Eastern State Hospital’s accreditation has been suspended after a patient strangled another patient last month.

The nation’s foremost medical accreditation organization, The Joint Commission, determined last week that the hospital for the mentally ill in Medical Lake allowed patients too much access to items that could be used for strangulation.

The hospital has since removed and secured the objects of concern and submitted a report back to the commission as part of an appeal to regain its accreditation, said Thomas Shapley, a spokesman for the state Department of Social and Health Services.

The commission’s report was the result of a regular review process, Shapley said, though the Nov. 20 homicide in Eastern’s forensic science unit, where the criminally insane are housed, was a factor.

“They saw items that could be used (for strangulation) and needed to be better secured,” he said. He did not know what specific items were in reach of patients.

The hospital had a 72-hour window after the report was issued Dec. 21 to take corrective action. If the commission does not restore the accreditation, the hospital may be forced to close.

The state is conducting an internal investigation into the strangulation.

At about 2:45 a.m. on Nov. 20, an Eastern patient told an employee, “I murdered someone,” according to court documents.

The employee found Duane Charley, 56, dead.

Patient Amber Ilene Roberts, 30, has been charged with first-degree murder in the case. She pleaded not guilty in Spokane County District Court a day after the homicide.

According to court documents, Charley’s roommate witnessed Roberts remove a belt from around her waist, wrap it around Charley’s neck and begin strangling him while he was lying in bed. Another patient said Roberts told him she strangled Charley with a cord.

DSHS spokesman John Wiley said the internal review of the homicide is expected to be completed in mid-January and will look at every angle of the incident, including staffing levels. If deficiencies are found, officials must submit plans for improvements.

The completed report will be sent to The Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the two federal certifying agencies that review the hospital’s operations.

The union representing hospital employees issued a statement in the wake of the slaying, saying they had ongoing concerns about staffing levels.

While Wiley declined to comment specifically on staffing levels, he said it stacks up to other similarly sized hospitals in other states. Eastern is one of two state-run adult psychiatric hospitals in the state.

A 2009 review of Eastern by the commission found that the hospital had sufficient practices to protect patients from “safety risks inherent in its patient population,” according to the report.

The most recent report that led to the suspension of the accreditation has not been released.

Shapley said DSHS does not have an anticipated time frame on when the commission will make its ruling on the hospital’s accreditation.

Staff writer Chelsea Bannach contributed to this report.
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