Health Care

Suicide attempt imperils Butner funding

A state mental hospital in Butner is once again in danger of losing federal funding, this time after a female patient used a bedsheet to hang herself late last month.

In a federal report released Monday, regulators said the staff at Central Regional Hospital failed to act to prevent the suicide attempt despite the 21-year-old patient having told a nurse exactly how she planned to take her life. The staff was able to get the patient down in time to save her life.

After the nurse failed to order constant observation of the patient, who has a long history of suicide attempts, she used a sheet to hang herself in her bathroom. The patient was found by a hospital worker hanging from her bathroom door.

The report does not detail precisely how the patient anchored her makeshift noose, other than to say she used the frame of the inside bathroom door. The bathroom fixtures and door hardware in patients' rooms at Central Regional were the subject of much scrutiny last year as the state opened the $138 million facility.

In a series of internal reports, safety inspectors warned that suicidal patients would exploit design flaws in the patient rooms to hang themselves. Though some of the hazards were corrected, administrators determined it wouldn't be cost-effective to fix them all.

On the basis of the March 5 report released Monday, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a finding of "immediate jeopardy," meaning the conditions monitored at the facility could pose an immediate threat to the safety of patients.

The hospital's administrators have until March 28 to fix the deficiencies or face the loss of federal funding totaling $1.2 million a month.

Brad Deen, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said administrators were working to correct the issues.

"We hold the safety and well-being of our patients paramount, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure their continued safety," Deen said in a written statement.

This marks the third time "immediate jeopardy" findings have threatened Central Regional's ability to bill federal insurance programs for the cost of caring for patients since it partially opened in July.

Several wards at the new hospital remain empty as the planned closure of Raleigh's aging Dorothea Dix Hospital has been repeatedly delayed by safety concerns at Central Regional.

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