Independence MHI probe finds unlocked windows in psychiatric unit

Investigation followed Jan. 12 report about MHI staff being injured by patients

Erin Jordan
Published: March 6 2014 | 3:27 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:15 am in

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals determined an anonymous complaint filed about the Independence Mental Health Institute was founded after unlocked windows were discovered in psychiatric unit.

Inspectors who visited MHI Jan. 21 and 22 determined a complaint about patient rights and responsibilities was substantiated, according to a Feb. 12 letter sent to the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs the institute.

“Since the hospital had taken immediate corrective action… no state deficiency was cited,” Mary Spracklin, Medicare Services Bureau chief, wrote in the letter.

Inspectors found windows unlocked in the psychiatric unit, DHS Spokeswoman Amy McCoy said. Staff locked those windows during the visit.

The section of Iowa Administrative Code that addresses patient rights and responsibilities requires hospitals to adopt a statement of principles for patient safety, confidentiality and access to treatment, among others rights, as well as patient responsibilities, such as following hospital rules and paying bills.

DIA would not release the complaint or say specifically what portion of the code it addressed. Inspectors determined another portion of the complaint dealing with psychiatric services was unsubstantiated.

The DIA’s investigation at MHI was unusual because the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) declined to investigate the complaint under federal laws because of lack of specificity in the allegations.

The probe followed a Jan. 12 Gazette report about MHI staff being injured by patients 70 times last year, with half of those injuries considered assaults. DHS said most injuries were minor with only seven referred for evaluation for workers compensation.

Assault charges filed in Buchanan County show a handful of adult MHI patients committing numerous attacks on patients and staff. Juvenile patients have also injured staff, employees said, because supervisors have discouraged staff from using restraints.

The Independence MHI is one of Iowa’s four mental health facilities that provide short-term psychiatric treatment for severe mental illness. The facility has 75 beds for adults and juveniles.

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