Saturday, June 2, 2007

Patient's death draws state, federal scrutiny

Federal and state authorities are determining whether to fine the south Sacramento psychiatric hospital where a patient's death was ruled a homicide after staff pinned her to the floor, officials said.

On Dec. 4, 2005, Ramona Knapp, 51, of Elk Grove, was "restrained inappropriately" by a mental health technician who put her weight on Knapp's back as Knapp lay face-down on the ground with her arms crossed against her chest. Sacramento County Coroner's officials called the death a homicide, and officials from the state Attorney General's office said the Bureau of Medical Fraud and Elder Abuse is looking into the case.

Mental health advocates have decried the death, saying the use of physical restraint is an outmoded practice that has been replaced with more therapeutic techniques.

Federal authorities who determine whether hospitals are eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid are probing the case, based on an in-depth report written about the hospital by state officials in March, said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman Jack Cheevers.

State Department of Health Services spokeswoman Patti Roberts said state officials are looking at whether to fine the hospital based on a 2006 law that bans repeat violations.

Hospital spokesman Mark Grip declined to comment. Sierra Vista Hospital is a 72-bed teen and adult psychiatric facility on Bruceville Road that is run by Tennessee-based Psychiatric Solutions, Inc., according to its web site and state reports.

Sacramento attorney Robert Buccola, who has filed a wrongful death suit against Sierra Vista, said a state DHS report completed in February reveals a pattern of understaffing and inadequate training at the hospital.

"This demonstrates more than failures that can happen at the very best facilities," Buccola said. "This shows a history of systemic neglect."

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