Arizona mental hospital adds security measures after ABC15 investigation

PHOENIX - Officials at the Arizona state mental hospital have quietly added security measures after an ABC15 Investigation exposed there had been a startling number of escapes in recent years.

Our investigation found that there had been 18 escapes in the past three years from the Arizona State Hospital, or ASH.

But despite all of those escapes, the hospital made deep cuts to their security force.

Four of those escaped patients – some with criminal records, have not been found. In 2011, one patient brutally murdered a woman after an escape .

After we broke the story on February 11, a patient escaped the very next day .

There was also another escape two weeks later.

After our stories, ASH held special drills for the first time ever to train staff about how to prevent and respond to escapes.

In a statement, the hospital wouldn't comment on the specifics of the drills, saying "security measures are taken to protect Arizona residents as well as patients and staff at the facility."

And even though, the state's top behavioral health official, Cory Nelson, told us the hospital didn't need additional security, we also learned that ASH hired extra workers from a temp agency and reassigned members of the transportation staff to watch the campus.

During an interview, the ABC15 Investigators pressed Nelson about the addition of the extra staff.

"Since our last story, the hospital has brought in extra temp workers. Is that correct?" we asked.

Nelson answered, "The hospital has continually used temporary workers for many, many years to fill vacancies."

"But extra, were extra brought in -- more than in the past?" we asked.

"In a couple of instances, there were a few extra people brought in as we were going through some modifications to the facility," Nelson said.  

Taxpayers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for temporary workers from a company named Concentric.

Sources say that the extra workers were "brought in as temporary aides to watch the halls until attention goes away" from ABC15's stories.

A source added that the temp staff were meant to act as "babysitters" but said that the temp workers were not allowed to talk to patients or touch them.

 

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