WPAS investigation leads to WSH employee dismissal

This article is excerpted from ENVOY, October/November 1995.

by Sandy Macdonald

A fired Western State Hospital employee recently lost his appeal to be reinstated, following a year-long WPAS investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed four female patients.  After a two-day hearing at the hospital, the state Personnel Appeals Board upheld the decision of hospital Superintendent Pat Terry to dismiss the employee, a psychiatric security attendant.

In September 1993, a Western State Hospital patient called WPAS and complained that, while she was in five-point restraints, one of the attendants had given her a cigarette and asked her to perform a sex act.  Earlier that day, she added, he had entered the women’s bathroom while she was bathing.

Over the next four months, WPAS located three other women who had experienced similar harassment by the same attendant.  All of the women said they had been offered cigarettes, candy or favorable reports in return for sex.  The man allegedly entered the women’s bathroom and exposed himself to one of the patients.

All of the claimed incidents took place on Ward N-7, where patients are sent from local jails to evaluate their competency to stand trial.  Often patients stay on that ward less than 15 days, the court limit for an evaluation, and are then sent back to jail.  WPAS found two of its clients at the Washington Correctional Center for Women, in Purdy.

The Western State Hospital Patient Abuse Policy states that “all patients have the right to treatment in an environment free of abuse and abusive procedures.”  The policy describes sexual abuse of patients as “any sexual contact between employee and patient, physical or psychological, solicited or unsolicited, whether consented to or not . . . including kissing, intimate caressing or fondling, and all overtly sexual acts . . . sexually suggestive remarks, sexual jokes and the sharing of sexual stories between employees and patients.”

WPAS gathered statements from all four women and, in June 1994, presented them to Superintendent Terry.  Terry investigated the claims, visiting the two women in prison.  After an August 1994 Personnel Conduct Report hearing, the employee was dismissed.

The employee appealed the decision and a second hearing was held before the state Personnel Appeals Board, at the end of June 1995.  WPAS staff member Sandy Macdonald testified at both hearings.  He described the process of locating the victims, preparing the statements, and informing the hospital.  Most important to WPAS was the credibility of the women’s claims.  The claims were consistent, descriptive, and clearly identified a pattern of sexual harassing conduct by the employee.

The Personnel Appeals Board unanimously upheld Western State Hospital’s decision, finding that the employee’s conduct constituted neglect of duty, gross misconduct, and willful violation of rules.  Affirming Macdonald’s testimony, the Board found, “While the evidence may not be sufficient to prove the allegations by any one of the women alone, there is a clear pattern in their combined testimony which reflects an overall pattern of sexual abuse.”  The Board also concluded that the employee violated hospital policies regarding the use of tobacco products.

The employee has now filed an additional appeal in the Superior Court.

If you feel you have been sexually harassed or abused by staff at a psychiatric facility you may contact WPAS for assistance and advice.

*Editor's Note: Disability Rights Washington was formerly known as Washington Protection and Advocacy System.

ENVOY Credits

ENVOY Editor:  Nicole Elger
ENVOY Editorial Assistant:  Annaliza Torres
ENVOY Staff Contributors:  Laura Allen, Elizabeth Ambrose, Randy Brown, Marie Jensen, David Lord, Sandy Macdonald, Gillian Maguire, Betty Schwieterman, Michael J. Smith, Mark Stroh, Thomaszine Weathersby

ENVOY is the newsletter of Disability Rights Washington, a private, nonprofit agency that has been protecting the rights of people with disabilities since 1972. DRW is a member of the National Disability Rights Network. Eligibility for DRW services is determined by federal law. Contact DRW if you would like more information about current priorities and available services.

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