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Investigators find sexual misconduct at Arizona State Hospital; don't report new developments to PD

Posted: 6:25 PM, Nov 15, 2016
Updated: 2016-11-16 05:54:21Z

A state investigation has determined that a former social worker at the Arizona State Hospital engaged in sexual misconduct and abused a vulnerable patient, according to confidential documents obtained by ABC15.

However, despite the state’s findings, there appears to be no official record of the 2014 incident available to the public.

RELATED: Top officials fought to keep information, records about sex crimes from public

The state refused to release any documents related to the investigation or answer questions. ABC15 also discovered the incident has not been fully reported to law enforcement officials.

The investigation was conducted by investigators with Arizona AHCCCS (the state’s Medicaid office) after ABC15 exposed the troubling incident and officials’ attempts to “cover it up” in an investigative report last year.

RELATED: AZ mental hospital staff found in patient’s bed; Officials accused of hiding incident

Here’s an excerpt from ABC15’s previous report:
An Arizona state mental hospital social worker was able to sneak onto the grounds, get into a patient’s room, kiss and embrace the patient before crawling into her bed and removing clothing, according to sources and records obtained by ABC15.

Both the social worker and patient are female.

The patient is extremely vulnerable and has amputated legs, sources said.  She was supposed to be on a constant one-to-one watch, which means one staff member is specifically assigned to her.

AHCCCS appeared to finish its investigation of the incident in September, according to records reviewed by ABC15.  The documents also show that the state used the station’s reports as part of its probe.

Investigators determined that the hospital failed to recognize warning signs about the social worker that began six months before the incident. The records also show the incident had a deep impact on the patient.

ABC15 is not naming the social worker, who also suffers from a mental illness and has not been charged with a crime.

In a phone interview, the social worker told ABC15 she was unaware of the result of the AHCCCS investigation and said a separate Adult Protective Service investigation didn't find abuse. 

She also said she went “completely psychotic” during the incident and doesn’t remember what occurred. She also she was horrified to learn what happened and didn’t mean harm to the patient.

The social worker resigned from the Arizona State Hospital in lieu of termination shortly after the incident, records show. 

ABC15 discovered that Arizona’s Behavioral Health Board granted the social worker a new license earlier this year, and she is currently working at a different healthcare facility.  

The social worker tells ABC15 that she has undergone treatment and is "stable."

It’s not clear why state officials didn’t notify law enforcement of their new findings. Likewise, it’s not clear what AHCCCS told state board officials about the incident, if anything.

AHCCCS attorney, Gina Relkin, said the agency would not release records or comment because of health privacy laws.

“Although Arizona public records law creates a presumption in favor of disclosure, Arizona courts have long recognized exceptions when public access to public records may be restricted: when the interests of privacy or confidentiality or the best interests of the State outweigh the general policy favoring disclosure. As you know, the federal HIPAA privacy law, in recognition of individual privacy interests, establishes minimum national standards to safeguard the privacy of individually identifiable health information. The federal HIPAA privacy law authorizes disclosure of protected health information under limited circumstances,” Relkin wrote in an email.

The state health department used similar legal arguments in 2014, when it denied ABC15 years of incident reports and internal investigations related to sex assault allegations at the Arizona State Hospital.

ABC15 sued, and a judge forced the state to release the records.

“Whether or not ASH is complying with its own policies and providing for the security of patients and personnel are certainly issues of public interest. In addition, whether or not ASH is ensuring the adequate protection and oversight of our State’s most vulnerable population is of the utmost importance,” said Judge Lori Horn Bustamante in her ruling.

After receiving the records, ABC15 aired a series of investigative reports that led to the firing of six top officials.

In response for this story, a spokeswoman for the state hospital said it’s a much different place than it was in 2014. She said the hospital’s new administration is committed to providing a safe environment for patients.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com