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Gordly Seeks Federal Investigation of State Hospital

24 Sept 2004

By Michelle Roberts

Summary: The Portland senator says an outside agency should determine if patients' civil rights have been violated

State Sen. Avel Gordly, D-Portland, called for a federal investigation Thursday to examine possible civil rights violations of current and former patients at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

Gordly's request came in response to a two-day series in The Oregonian that detailed the sexual abuse of as many as a dozen patients in the adolescent unit by staff members from 1989 to 1994.

The investigation disclosed that hospital officials and their supervisors -- most still employed in state government -- did little to stop the abuses and often failed to report suspected sexual abuse immediately to police and child welfare workers, as required by state law. The articles also said the hospital has taken only limited steps to prevent abuse in the years since.

"An independent investigation is the best way to get the complete truth about what has happened at the hospital," Gordly said in a statement. "It's also the best way to make the changes necessary to protect and care for patients in the future."

Gordly said she and Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, also are considering increasing penalties for staff who fail to report abuse. Currently, the punishment is a Class A violation and a maximum $750 fine. The senators will propose making it a Class A misdemeanor with a maximum $6,250 fine, a one-year jail sentence and possible license revocation.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday ordered a full review of all abuse of mental patients on the adolescent ward in response to the newspaper's reports. Although the incidents occurred a decade or more ago, the articles said the hospital continues to follow abuse-reporting rules inconsistently.

The governor asked officials at the Department of Human Services, which oversees the hospital, to review all reported cases of abuse in the adolescent ward since 1992 and make a report to him within 30 days.

But Gordly, whose son suffers from schizophrenia and was a patient at the hospital two years ago, said a review should be done by an impartial, outside agency.

"I am concerned that some state officials who have been decision makers over the past several years would also be involved in the investigation," she said, "and it's not enough for government to investigate itself."

© 2004 Oregonian Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Oregonian.

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