07/24/11 — Officials taking look at Cherry after patient was groped

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Officials taking look at Cherry after patient was groped

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 24, 2011 1:50 AM

Investigators from the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare were back at Cherry Hospital Thursday, this time to look into an incident in which an adult patient groped an adolescent patient.

The incident, officials with the state Department of Health and Human Services said, occurred at a supervised recreational therapy activity -- a social event that a nurse at the state psychiatric hospital described as a dance.

In a written statement, DHHS spokesman Mark Van Sciver explained that the adult and adolescent patients were not meant to mix at this event, but that they were in the gymnasium at the same time. The incident, according to a written account from Cherry Hospital Director Philip Cook, provided by Van Sciver, occured when the male patient walked up behind the female adolescent who was dancing, and wrapped his arms around her.

According to Van Sciver, this event and others like it held in the past were all approved by the hospital's executive team.

In Cook's statement, he emphasized that the incident happened quickly and that the male patient did not touch the girl's breasts, and that once the man was redirected by staff, there were no further incidents.

The ages of the patients involved were not provided, as Van Sciver cited patient confidentiality. However, unconfirmed reports said the girl was 12 years old.

Van Sciver also would not confirm that the male patient was what is known as a House Bill 95 patient -- one who is charged with a crime, but too mentally ill to stand trial. Nor would he comment on whether the man had a history of sexual crimes, again citing patient confidentiality.

However, after the incident, the hospital released an amended policy for requiring closer one-to-one -- one staff per one patient -- supervision of HB-95 patients.

Currently the hospital has 29 HB-95 patients. Van Sciver also said there are currently five sexual offenders or alleged sexual offenders at Cherry, and that DHHS is now "working with legal counsel to determine the scope of the law as it pertains to persons in mental hospitals/facilities."

State law prohibits registered sexual offenders from being within 300 feet of any facility used primarily by children, when that facility is on the grounds of another, such as a hospital or mall.

Cherry Hospital can serve up to 16 adolescents as young as 12, and there is a school on the facility's grounds.

Van Sciver acknowledged that this incident occurred not because of a lack of supervision, but primarily because of the mixing of adult and adolescent patients, and that such events will no longer be held.