Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital. (Ian Terry / Herald file)

Lawsuit: Mental health hospital retaliated against employee

The mental health technician said she raised concerns. Then management stopped giving her shifts.

EVERETT — A Smokey Point Behavioral Hospital employee claims she was retaliated against when she warned higher-ups about unsafe working conditions at the facility, according to a lawsuit.

The mental health technician reportedly brought up her worries as early as October 2018, when she told the CEO there weren’t enough technicians and nurses to handle the number and the type of patients being admitted, according to the lawsuit filed last month in Snohomish County Superior Court. She also submitted incident reports regarding staffing shortages and calling out poor management. Shortly after, she requested to move from full-time to per diem work.

Then, on Jan. 10, 2019, the employee reported to management that two patients, both minors, had sexual contact when left unattended. The lawsuit claims the hospital didn’t follow the normal protocol of notifying the state or the patients’ parents. By failing to follow up, the complaint alleges, the hospital was “covering up” and “took no actions to prevent further sexual contact, abuse, or harm.”

The day the employee made her report was the last day that managers at Smokey Point scheduled her for a shift, according to the lawsuit. Her attempts to find out why were ignored and she never was allowed to meet with anyone to discuss the decision, the lawsuit claims. She reportedly had no performance or discipline issues. She had worked at the hospital for about a year.

The 115-bed mental health facility opened in June 2017, and had been preceded by hopes that it would help fill a decades-long need for more inpatient psychiatric care in the county. It’s since been the subject of complaints about understaffing, neglected patients, unsafe discharges and inadequate care. The state has conducted inspection after inspection and in one instance declared patients faced a “high risk of serious harm, injury, and death due to the extent of deficiencies.”

In a separate lawsuit, a family alleges the hospital’s inability to care for patients led to the death of 78-year-old Rosemary Torgesen. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, she refused to eat or take medications, and after a 99-day stay at Smokey Point, she died from malnutrition and complications from injuries related to a fall.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

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