11/20/08 — Three fired at Cherry in wake of death

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Three fired at Cherry in wake of death

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 20, 2008 1:46 PM

After being directed to review the disciplinary actions taken against the staff involved in the negligent care of Steven Sabock, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that Cherry Hospital has fired three of the employees and disciplined 10 others.

Sabock died on April 29 after being left unattended in a day room for more than 22 hours at the state mental hospital while video surveillance tapes show employees ignoring him as they played cards and watched television.

However, Cherry Hospital Director Dr. Jack St. Clair has said that the state medical examiner's report concluded that Sabock actually died of a pre-existing heart condition -- not from his lack of nourishment, his choking on medication or hitting his head.

During a news conference shortly after the incident, however, which has resulted in Cherry's loss of federal funding -- approximately $800,000 a month -- and the introduction of an independent consultant group to help the hospital right itself, DHHS Secretary Dempsey Benton ordered the hospital to review its personnel actions for every employee involved, because, as DHHS spokesman Tom Lawrence said, "some of it may not have been severe enough."

Originally, hospital administrators had simply reassigned several staff members after shutting down the ward Sabock was staying on.

Later, though, according to Wednesday's release, five employees received a written warning, four received a three-day suspension, one received a five-day suspension and three were fired.

A criminal investigation also is still under way by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Additionally, the release said that two other employees voluntarily left employment with Cherry Hospital.

Other actions taken include the removal of the staff members involved from direct care responsibilities, a 60-day re-orientation and retraining program and the completion of a competency test before being reassigned to patient care.

Those involved and still employed at the hospital also have been receiving weekly observations and supervision from a nurse supervisor since being reassigned on Oct. 2.

Currently, the Compass Group is still working with the hospital to help it regain its funding from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare.