Arizona officials say federal crackdown on state mental hospital result of ABC15 investigation

PHOENIX - Arizona officials say the federal government is cracking down on the state mental hospital, and it's all because the ABC15 Investigators exposed major problems at the taxpayer-funded institution.

The problems described by insiders include deep cuts to security that have led to a shocking level of violence at the hospital.

Investigators from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services conducted a surprise inspection at the Arizona State Hospital just one week after we revealed that a 23-year-old patient at the hospital died suddenly .

The inspection prompted the feds to send hospital officials a terse letter citing numerous deficiencies and threatening to withdraw millions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

The deficiencies cited are problems we exposed including dangerous staffing shortages and inadequate care of at-risk patients who require round-the-clock monitoring.

A national expert, Dr. Mark Alan Wellek, M.D., told us he's concerned that things at the Arizona mental hospital are getting worse and it's time for major changes.

"It scares me," Wellek said.

He's helped run a psychiatric hospital. Wellek points to a startling level of violence at ASH that precludes adequate patient care and meaningful treatment.

"It's a hostile environment. It's an environment that's dangerous for patients and staff," Wellek says.

The feds seem to agree with Wellek.

They cited the hospital's failure to prevent six at-risk patients from harming themselves as well as the hospital's failure to keep adequate treatment records as "serious deficiencies."

Gov. Jan Brewer was asked about the federal inspection report and the safety of staff and patients at the hospital by Howard Fisher from Capitol Media Services.

The governor said, "They are just as safe there as they would be anywhere else."

Arizona's Director of Health Services, Will Humble has repeatedly ignored ABC15's requests for comment on the problems at ASH.

Outside the state capitol, Humble pretended he didn't hear our questions when we tried to ask him about the federal notice of deficiencies.

But Humble told the Associated Press he does not believe the state will lose Medicare certification.

Critics suggest Humble should have a greater sense of urgency and he should focus on concrete solutions to the real problems at the state mental hospital, like the recent death of a patient and hundreds of assaults chronicled by ABC15.

"You need more staff, not less. When you get less, patients die, staff get hurt," Wellek said.

The governor told ABC15 on Thursday she wants every patient to be safe and she pledged to do whatever is necessary.

The state has until the end of this week to provide evidence that they've fixed the deficiencies.

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