New report findings confirm major problems at Alaska Psychiatric Institute

A new report released Monday substantiates major problems at Alaska’s only psychiatric hospital.

The state Ombudsman’s Office conducted an investigation into complaints about treatment of patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage.

“In this case, the evidence did support the allegations that API was not acting to prevent or mitigate violence toward patients from staff or other patients,” said State of Alaska Ombudsman Kate Burkhart.

The investigation was prompted by complaints in June of 2018 by a hospital safety officer warming that API staff members were excessively restraining and isolating patients, as well as using force in ways that are unlawful under the facility’s own guidelines. Since 2015, Burkhart’s office has received 42 complaints about API, 31 percent of them related to patient neglect and mistreatment.

“There were significant instances where staff caused harm to patients, where patients caused harm to other patients and API did not respond proactively to prevent or to mitigate the results of that harm,” Burkhart said.

There were other findings that the use of seclusion and restraint were used in situations where there wasn’t an immanent threat to safety.

“That is impermissible under federal law and API policy,” Burkhart added.

The report is comprised of interviews with staff over several months, as well as an extensive review of documents. It details upsetting incidents that should not have taken place, such as one patient sexually assaulting another in view of a nursing station. The report documents how employees mishandled procedures for dealing with those cases after the fact.

This report comes several months after a different investigation looked into unsafe working conditions for staff at API. That document was released by a private law group, and found significant problems faced by employees at the facility connected to under-staffing, inconsistent training and taxing work loads.

Burkhart’s office made 11 recommendations to the Department of Health and Social Services, which oversees API.

In February, the Dunleavy Administration introduced a plan that could eventually privatize the facility. Burkhart said her office began its investigation prior to that decision, and that the report’s recommendations could be incorporated regardless of who is managing the facility.

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah