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Arizona State Hospital sued by advocacy organization over patient, record access

Posted: 7:24 PM, Sep 13, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-14 01:50:35Z

The Arizona State Hospital is being sued by a disability advocacy law firm that claims officials have violated federal law by refusing to provide access to the facility, patients, and records.

The Arizona Center for Disability Law (ACDL) filed a lawsuit against top officials at the state hospital and health department on September 12.

READ THE LAWSUIT

The Arizona State Hospital (ASH) is the state’s public psychiatric hospital and houses some of Arizona’s most vulnerable and severely mentally ill.

Under federal law, certain agencies like the ACDL, are specially designated as “Protection and Advocacy agencies,” allowing them to advocate for patients, represent them, access their files, and investigate claims of neglect and abuse.

But the ACDL claims that hospital officials have repeatedly refused to provide them with unaccompanied access to patients and their files over the course of several years.

“If the Arizona State Hospital can choose which of their residents ACDL can speak to, listen in on our conversations, limit our access to the places and people they want us to see, then no one will ever know what’s happening to the people we cannot see behind the doors,” according to a statement issued by ACDL attorney Chris Carlsen.

The ACDL also claimed that the hospital has refused to release certain records related to suspected cases of neglect and abuse, including the 2015 death of a patient named Barbara West.

ABC15 first reported and exposed details of West’s death when it occurred.

“Without access to peer review records relevant to ACDL’s investigations of potential abuse and neglect of ASH patients, ACDL cannot accomplish our mandate to investigate abuse and neglect, or prevent future incidents of abuse and neglect of ASH patients,” said ACDL attorney Asim Dietrich in a statement.

Some of the key records at issue in the lawsuit filed by ACDL are known as “peer review records.” Basically, they’re internal files like internal investigations.

Arizona officials maintain those records are confidential under state law.

But organizations like the ACDL in other states have filed similar lawsuits against hospitals and facilities in federal court and succeeded in obtaining the records.

The state hospital is run by the Arizona Department of Health Services. A spokesperson said the health department would not comment on the pending litigation.

However, the spokesperson released a statement: 

“The Arizona Department of Health Services does not comment on pending litigation. That said, the top priority at the Arizona State Hospital is to provide the safest and most therapeutic environment possible for our patients. The Department acts vigorously to protect patients under our care and their privacy.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dave@abc15.com .

Dave has covered the Arizona State Hospital for years. See some of his other reports below: