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Northwood Reviewed After Three Deaths, One In Wetzel

By Staff | Oct 14, 2009

Three patients have died in the care of Northwood Health Systems over the past two months while the company was working to renew its health care license, which expired Sept. 30 without being renewed.

Northwood officials, however, believe those patients died from natural causes and said the company is committed to providing a safe and caring environment for those in its care. The company serves more than 3,000 mental health patients in Ohio, Marshall, and Wetzel counties.

The Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification-a division of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources-said last month it would not renew Northwood’s license because some of the company’s practices jeopardized patient safety.

A statement from Northwood spokesman John Culler states, “The nonrenewal of the license has been stayed while we continue to complete our resolution of the deficiencies identified by OHFLAC, which is standard procedure. An order was signed by OHFLAC on Oct. 5, 2009, granting the stay.”

“Northwood continues to operate under our original license while we work with the state to have our license renewed,” said Patrick Casey, Northwood’s chairman of the board. “We are very confident we will see our license renewed.”

An OHFLAC report cited not only the three deaths-one of which allegedly involved failure to adequately monitor a suicidal patient-but also a series of incidents in which staff members reportedly mistreated, neglected, or humiliated disabled patients.

“People with disabilities are having their rights violated. . . In my 30 years in the health care business, I have not seen incidents with this seriousness, frequency, and degree,” said Clarice Hausch, director of West Virginia Advocates. The organization represents disabled residents.

“I would like people not to be abused, neglected, and disrespected,” she added.

According to the OHFLAC report, a woman died Aug. 26 in a Northwood staff member’s vehicle in Ohio County. The state investigator’s report said no one attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Four days later, a suicidal woman was found dead at a Northwood subsidiary in New Martinsville, Mid-Valley Healthcare. The report said that woman was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes, but staff did not know she and six other clients were suicidal.

The report said only two people were supervising 15 residential clients and for most of the night one staff member was doing laundry and cleaning. The victim was not checked between 3 a.m. and 6:45 a.m.

Hausch said the third death occurred Sept. 21, when a woman with a developmental disability died at Northwood’s Ritz Avenue group home in Wheeling. State regulators have not yet released the report on that death.

“Some of these allegations have been substantiated. We have taken appropriate action against the employees responsible,” Casey said in response to the report.

John Law, DHHR spokesman, downplayed the incidents.

“I don’t know if this is above and beyond the usual concerns,” he said. “This just happened to come up at a time when their license was to be renewed.”

The report also states:

A blind patient with dementia and Down’s Syndrome was verbally berated and assaulted by a Northwood employee. The victim and four witnesses confirmed the assault, according to a Wheeling police report, but Ohio County Assistant Prosecutor Shawn Turak said Thursday the charges were dismissed. The suspect denied hitting the patient and witnesses gave conflicting statements.

At Mid-Valley Healthcare, an employee barricaded a developmentally disabled man in his bedroom. While trapped, the report states, he ate a portion of his own adult diaper. Northwood responded, “There is no evidence our client had anything in his mouth like the material described by the disgruntled former employee.”

A client at a Wheeling facility had a contagious and drug-resistant infection that was not properly treated. Nor did staff take adequate precautions to prevent it from spreading.

Casey said Northwood has been involved in the survey with OHFLAC concerning license renewal since August. He said the company has passed the survey “with flying colors” in previous years.

“We are very proud of our dedication to our patients. . . We are very proud of our work at Northwood,” he said.