New Report Reveals Faulty State Hospital Hiring Practices Likely Contributed to Repeat Patient Abuse

Posted on

February 19, 2013

Edie Surtees
Communications Director
Disability Rights Texas
(512) 407-2739

AUSTIN — Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), a legal protection and advocacy agency mandated by federal law to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect of people with disabilities, released a report today in response to numerous allegations in the press about patient abuse and professional misconduct by physicians at state-run psychiatric hospitals in Texas.

In the report, “Turning a Blind Eye: How Breakdowns in State Hospital Oversight Leave Patients Vulnerable to Physician Abuse and Professional Misconduct,” DRTx focused its investigation on what it believes to be systemic failures within the state agencies that are responsible for the prevention of abuse and neglect of patients.

DRTx identified situations where the state hospitals had either hired or continued to employ physicians with documented histories of professional violations prior to or during employment at a state hospital. DSHS and state hospital leadership appeared not to use, and in some cases disregarded, existing regulatory safeguards that could have detected and held physicians accountable for providing competent care and protecting patients from harm.

Additionally, the investigation led DRTx to conclude that DFPS failed to competently interview alleged victims or obtain and analyze necessary evidence and continuously discounted the credibility of the alleged victims on the basis of their mental illness, resulting in unreliable findings. DRTx believes these failures potentially contributed to additional victimization and further fostered an institutional bias that protects physicians accused of alleged abuse.

In the report, DRTx recommends improvements to DSHS’s existing hiring, retention, supervision and discipline policies and practices, tracking and trending of abuse and neglect in DSHS facilities, and monitoring the state hospital system’s responsiveness when someone makes an abuse allegation. DRTx also suggests ways to improve the effectiveness of DSHS oversight of state hospitals and recommends improving the adequacy of investigations conducted by DFPS in light of the shared role between DSHS and DFPS in protecting patients.

DRTx also reviews ways in which increased oversight and assistance from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) could improve patient safety. HHSC is the state agency that oversees all health and human services departments, including DSHS and DFPS. The investigation identified opportunities for HHSC to increase collaboration between DSHS and DFPS to increase patient safety.

While the challenge of limited resources is indisputable, it cannot be an excuse for the State’s failure to protect patients in its care. In most of the cases investigated in the report, inadequate funding played no role in the perceived failures of the state hospitals and oversight agencies. The problems identified in the DRTx report are longstanding and largely unrelated to fiscal concerns.

Many recommendations in the DRTx report require legislative action to ensure adoption and implementation. DRTx encourages the Texas legislature and HHSC to work with DSHS and DFPS to support the collaboration necessary to improve the State’s care of Texans with mental illness.

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Disability Rights Texas (DRTx), formerly named Advocacy Inc., is a nonprofit organization that protects and advances the legal, human and service rights of Texans with a broad range of disabilities. DRTx is federally funded and designated as the protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for the state of Texas.