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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eastern State Hospital chief steps down

Connie Wilmot is out as the CEO of Eastern State Hospital four months after one patient strangled another patient and the hospital temporarily lost its accreditation.

Wilmot accepted another position within the Department of Social and Health Services but took about a $20,000 annual pay cut.

Reached by phone Friday, Wilmot declined to discuss her job change.

John Wiley, spokesman for DSHS, said Wilmot was on leave for a few months and on Monday will begin her new role as a mental health nurse consultant for the Home and Community Services branch of DSHS.

After making about $95,000 per year as CEO, she will now revert to what she made when she was a lower-ranking executive of the hospital, about $76,000, Wiley said.

The leadership change comes in the wake of murder charges against patient Amber Roberts, 30. She is accused of killing Duane Charley, 56, on the Medical Lake psychiatric hospital’s ward for the criminally insane.

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

Accreditation agency the Joint Commission suspended the hospital’s accreditation in December, citing the homicide along with a routine survey that found patients were able to access items that could be used for strangulation.

The hospital passed a review in January and was upgraded this month to accreditation contingent on passing further reviews.

Wilmot took the new position voluntarily, Wiley said. He could not comment on any connection between her job change and the homicide or accreditation because it’s a personnel matter.

In January, DSHS head Kevin Quigley said “the wheels are off” in the state hospitals and that change would have to come from the leadership at each hospital. Problems reported to him included labor relations and “letters from unions that say ‘we don’t have confidence in our leader,’ ” Quigley said. He did not specifically name Wilmot.

“You can’t manage those organizations from Olympia,” Quigley said. “You have to have leadership that’s going to be able to manage them to an effective standard.”

Eastern State’s chief operating officer, Shirley Maike, served as interim CEO during Wilmot’s leave. As of March 11, the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Kamal Floura, is the acting CEO.

Wiley said a national search for a new chief is under way.

Wilmot became head of the hospital after former CEO Harold “Hal” Wilson resigned in September 2009. Wilson left his post a week after criminally insane patient Phillip Paul escaped during a field trip to the Spokane County Interstate Fair.

The episode set in motion a massive manhunt. Paul had been committed to the psychiatric hospital for the 1987 slaying of a 78-year-old woman in Sunnyside, Wash.

Paul, a paranoid schizophrenic, was captured in rural Klickitat County three days after he walked away during the fair outing.

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