Since October investigation, another 41 assaults in Florida’s violent mental hospitals
Despite state lawmakers’ calls for emergency safety measures, violence continues at record rates inside Florida’s state-funded mental hospitals.
Since October, when the Tampa Bay Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune first chronicled the growing violence, police and state regulators have investigated at least 41 injuries and attacks.
At one hospital, a patient hid scissors in his room, then used them to stab a hospital employee in the back. In another, a patient tore off a man’s eyelid during a fight.
The Times and Herald-Tribune first revealed the chaos inside Florida’s mental wards in October when they published the results of a yearlong investigation, Insane. Invisible. In danger. The newspapers found that state officials cut $100 million from the hospitals’ budgets and fired a third of their workforce. Violent attacks and other injuries doubled, leading to at least 15 deaths.
The stories led to calls for reform across Florida. Gov. Rick Scott requested $1.6 million in new spending for surveillance cameras and body alarms. State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, demanded a list of “emergency measures” from state regulators. The state Department of Children and Families, which oversees Florida’s mental hospitals, is expected to present those measures in January.
When asked about the continued violence, DCF officials noted that Scott has proposed $19 million in additional state funding “to support individuals with mental health needs in their communities instead of the state’s custody.”
Meanwhile, patients and mental hospital workers continue to face assault and injury. A Times/Herald-Tribune review of recent police records and state incident reports shows:
1. Employees who work in the state’s mental hospitals continue to suffer serious injuries at the hands of their patients.
At Northeast Florida State Hospital, Jerold Jackson, 43, was delusional Nov. 9 when he threw urine on orderly Clyde Coker. Jackson pulled out a pair of scissors he had stashed in his closet and stabbed Coker in the back, leaving a half-inch deep gash, about 10 inches long. Later, Jackson told police: “I wasn’t trying to hurt him.” Less than a week later, on Nov. 15 at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center, worker Mary D. Brown, 43, was trapped in the foyer with 53-year-old patient Jeffrey Dawson. Dawson beat her so badly in the face that Brown needed a neck brace.
2. Employees regularly abuse or neglect patients in their care.
Since October, DCF investigators have “verified” six instances of employee abuse or neglect.
A patient under suicide watch at Florida State Hospital bit an orderly, who bit the patient back. The employee, who left multiple marks on the patient’s back, was terminated.
On Dec. 16, patient Howard Bourgault, 56, was eating his dinner in the cafeteria at Northeast Florida State Hospital when orderly James Torrez Wright told him he could not have cake. When Bourgault returned later to get more food, Wright, 26, punched the 56-year-old patient in the head, knocking him unconscious and leading to 15 stitches, according to a police report.
None of the employees in these incidents were named in DCF reports. Wright was the only employee that the Times/Herald-Tribune could locate in police reports.
3. Hospital workers sometimes delay seeking medical care for patients.
A worker at Florida State Hospital shoved a patient across his bed, slamming his head into the wall. When DCF investigators reviewed video of the incident, they heard the patient’s head crack against the wall. The patient cried out, but a nearby orderly “did not intervene, nor call for assistance,” according to a Nov. 25 state report. The worker who shoved the patient “failed to notify the nurse of the injury.” It wasn’t until the following morning that the patient was sent for medical care after it was discovered he had a “large hematoma” on his head.
On Oct. 27, Northeast Florida State Hospital patient James Pierson, 33, punched patient Roi Newsman in the head for unknown reasons. More than two weeks later, hospital workers did an X-ray on Newsman, 49, and discovered his jaw was broken from the attack. Police filed charges against Pierson, but the hospital did not report it to state regulators as a “critical incident.” DCF spokeswoman Michelle Glady said the incident did not meet the criteria to be reported.
4. Serious fights between patients and injuries continue.
At least 23 patients were attacked by a fellow patient. Many needed medical treatment.
At Florida State Hospital in October, two men fought and had to be separated by staff. But they started brawling again in the bathroom. One of the patients — neither of whom was named in state reports — jabbed his fingers in the other man’s eye and ripped off part of his eyelid. The patient was taken to Tallahassee Memorial hospital to have it reattached.
In mid November at North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center near Gainesville, a similar scene played out: A patient repeatedly kicked and punched another in the multipurpose room, leaving him with a damaged eyelid that required plastic surgery to repair.
5. Florida’s mental hospitals still do not take precautions to separate patients from their attackers.
Brian Vogt, 30, first attacked Steven Wesley Robison on a Sunday afternoon in late November in the lobby of Northeast Florida State Hospital. Robison, 44, received a black eye and three stitches on his bottom lip. But the pair remained on the same ward, and three days later, Vogt came after Robison again — punching him multiple times in the head.
On Oct. 10 at North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center, a patient complained to staff members that another patient had hit him. Before anyone responded, the attacker went after him again, punching him over and over and leaving him with 14 stitches above his eye.
Law enforcement reports show that several other patients have called police, complaining that they were not separated from an attacker and were fearful they would be injured again.
Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at [email protected] or 727-893-8640.