Advocates want investigation into state hospital patient's death
Source: The Oregonian
SALEM -- A 42-year-old patient at the Oregon State Hospital was found dead in his bed Saturday night, prompting mental health advocates to call for an investigation amid reports that the man was dead for several hours before staff noticed.
A hospital official confirmed that a patient on 50F, a medium security ward, was discovered dead in his room at 7:40 p.m. Saturday.
The patient was identified as Moises Perez, who had been found guilty but insane for assault and attempted murder. He was sent to the Oregon State Hospital in 1995 and was to remain under the jurisdiction of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board until 2034.
On Tuesday Disability Rights Oregon and MindFreedom, two organizations that lobby for the mentally ill, demanded an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Perez's death.
Patients interviewed by advocates and The Oregonian said Perez had complained of chest pains. They said he ate breakfast, but did not show up for lunch. Staff distributed dinner trays to rooms on the ward between 5 and 6 p.m., but hospital officials would not say specifically whether Perez got a tray or ate any food.
He shared a room with three other patients and was found when staff dispensed nighttime medications.
"We've gathered enough information that makes us think that there's probable cause to believe there was abuse or neglect," said Robert Joondeph, executive director for Disability Rights Oregon.
"This was a guy who was pretty significantly disabled," Joondeph said. "Apparently the one thing he did was, he was a good eater -- so when he didn't show up for lunch something was up and if he didn't eat his dinner something was really up."
David Oaks, director of Eugene-based MindFreedom International, described the circumstances as "suspicious."
A preliminary investigation by the Oregon State Police found no evidence of a crime.
"The Marion County medical examiner advised our investigator that the death was considered natural causes," said Lt. Gregg Hastings, Oregon State Police spokesman.
State police have forwarded their report to the Marion County district attorney. Hastings said that report would not be released publicly until the district attorney completes his review.
Oregon State Hospital spokeswoman Patricia Feeny said the patient had medical issues. But she declined to discuss the specifics of his case or when staff recorded their last contact with him alive.
Instead, Feeny cited medical confidentiality laws and an ongoing internal investigation by hospital officials. The results of that investigation will be forwarded to an independent commission on hospital accreditation, she said.
The Office of Investigations and Training inside the Oregon Department of Human Services is also investigating, which is routine in such cases.
Oregon's state mental hospital has a well-chronicled history of troubles. In 2008, the U.S. Justice Department released a report detailing abysmal conditions and staffing shortages at the hospital that not only hindered patients' recovery but threatened the safety of both patients and staff.
Federal investigators returned this summer to check on the hospital's progress.
On Saturday, hospital officials said ward 50F housed 42 men and was staffed by a registered nurse, one worker who is regularly assigned to the ward and three "floaters" who work wherever they're needed. Hospital officials say that level of staffing meets minimum requirements and is typical for a weekend swing shift.
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The Salem Statesman Journal also ran an article about this suspicious death, noting that the mental health system is not asking for an autopsy of Mr. Perez: