FOX19 Investigates: Psychiatric hospital staff attacked by patients

Summit Behavioral Healthcare, a state run psychiatric hospital, off I-75 in Roselawn.
Summit Behavioral Healthcare, a state run psychiatric hospital, off I-75 in Roselawn.

ROSELAWN, OH (FOX19) - A psychiatrist was nearly beaten to death by a patient this summer at Summit Behavioral Health, FOX19 has learned from a whistleblower who works at the state-run mental hospital. The beating was so savage it wasn't clear for days whether the doctor would survive, the whistleblower said.

A FOX19 investigation into violence at the facility, located off the Paddock Road exit along Interstate 75, uncovered documents in which staff members describe in their own words 11 dangerous incidents that they allege occurred over the past 2 ½ years. In one of the documents, a nurse reported last October that a patient spit on them. "I went to back away from her, when she hit me and grabbed my hair and we both went to the ground," it read.

The vast majority of Summit Behavioral's patients have had some run-in with the law. State figures show 53 percent of all the patients at Summit have already been to court and been found not guilty for reason of insanity. While studies show most people with a mental illness are not violent, this is a particularly violent group.

"They're there for a reason," said Mental Health America's Liz Atwater, who trains Cincinnati police officers on how to deal with the mentally ill. "And they're typically very serious reasons. So it is a higher-risk population."

According to the whistleblower who contacted FOX19, people who work at Summit are often worried about their safety.

"Your life is in danger every time you go there," the woman told us. "You know, you just pray that you have a safe eight hours and go home."

FOX19 agreed not to identify the woman, who fears Summit would fire her if they knew she was speaking to a reporter about what happens inside the locked facility. Neither Summit's administrators nor the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services would speak with us on camera. However, a spokesman for the state agency sent us a statement saying the hospital takes safety very seriously.

"All new employees have substantial training in safety and regular updates occur throughout employment," the statement says. "On the uncommon occasions when assaults occur, each event is reviewed in-depth to determine what further interventions might be made to further improve safety in our facilities."

But according to the whistleblower, staff members are often made to feel the physical attack was somehow their fault. She says what would really make the facility safer is adding more staff so that the number of times a tech or nurse is alone with patients is greatly diminished.

However, in the case of the attack on the doctor on July 22, she was accompanied by a social worker and was still brutally beaten. An internal Summit e-mail  obtained by FOX19 says the psychiatrist and the social worker went to talk with a patient about her concerns. But the patient "became suddenly enraged" and hit the doctor on the head. The doctor then fell to the ground and, according to the e-mail, the patient "pounced atop (her) and delivered a rapid series of punches to her face and head. Staff responded immediately, bringing the attack to a prompt conclusion."

However, what the e-mail does not say is that the doctor nearly lost her life in the attack, according to the whistleblower's version of events, and spent weeks at various hospitals in the Cincinnati area. Her family declined to say how she's doing now.

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