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Lawmaker pushes bill to hold Arizona state hospital more accountable

AZ state mental hospital investigation ongoing
Posted at 2:49 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-14 01:55:43-04

A bill that would overhaul the Arizona State Hospital’s governing board and add layers of outside oversight has passed overwhelmingly through the House of Representatives.

House Bill 2319, introduced by Rep. Nancy Barto, was approved by a 56 to 2 vote on Wednesday.

“It addresses I think a lot of critical issues,” Barto said during a recent hearing on the bill. “(It creates) better oversight of the hospital.”

The long-time Republican lawmaker chairs the House health committee and introduced the bill in response to a 2019 State Auditor General report that found the hospital is still struggling to control the level of violence within its units.

The audit, which found assaults continue to rise, followed up on a 2015 outside investigation ordered by the Governor’s Office.

Governor Doug Ducey ordered the probe after ABC15 aired a series of investigative reports that found hospital officials failed to properly report and internally investigate physical and sexual assaults for years.

“Because the State Hospital lacks a structured approach to evaluate its strategies, it may be missing opportunities to more effectively respond to and reduce assaults,” the audit stated.

According to an analysis of the HB2319, it would:
- Overhaul the hospital’s governing board by requiring more members from outside the hospital. Currently, almost all of the members are hospital employees.
- Require the hospital to create a staffing plan to reduce vacancies and turnover.
- Require the hospital to hire an outside company to help “develop, implement, and document an assault reduction plan,” and train staff regularly.
- Require the hospital to issue annual reports that detail how the assault reduction plan is working.
- Appropriates $500,000 in order to upgrade and manage the hospital’s video and audio surveillance system.

Earlier this year, ABC15 began investigating a homicide inside a sex-offender unit at the hospital.

A patient inside the Arizona Community Protection and Treatment Center (ACPTC) repeatedly punched another 83-year-old resident during an unsupervised attack that was captured on a hospital camera.

Hospital staff waited hours to report the crime and didn’t call police until after they learned the victim was going to die.

The Arizona Department of Health Services, which operates and also licenses ACPTC, investigated the incident itself for health and safety violations and determined “no deficiencies” occurred.

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