State settles hospital death lawsuit

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — The state of Oregon has agreed to pay $1.4 million to the family of a man who died at the state mental hospital, which has been the subject of repeated accusations of patient neglect.

The family's lawsuit said Moises Perez was treated inhumanely and the nursing staff failed to monitor his condition.

Perez was 42 when he died of coronary heart disease in 2009. An investigation showed that he lay dead for several hours in his room across from the nursing station before his body was discovered. Nobody checked on him when he didn't show up to take his medication — a violation of hospital policy — or when he missed lunch and dinner, the investigation found.

Over the years, the Oregon State Hospital has frequently been criticized for instances of mistreating patients.

Nearly two years before Perez's death, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on conditions at the hospital, including mice in rooms, deaths from pneumonia and outbreaks of scabies.

A patient in the same ward as Perez committed suicide in 2008.

The hospital, where “One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest” was filmed, has been largely rebuilt, and hospital officials say they've made strides at improving the quality of care.

“This death was a terrible tragedy,” Greg Roberts, the hospital superintendent, said in a statement. “We have already put in place many changes to ensure a similar tragedy does not happen again. As a result, there will be a long lasting impact on the hospital and our patients through the improvements we have made to care and treatment.”

The hospital has increased medical staff to take care of patients’ non-psychiatric needs and created guidelines for screening, monitoring, treating and educating patients, such as Perez, with metabolic conditions, officials said. They've also created a policy requiring nurses to check on patients at least once per hour.

Perez was 12 when his family crammed into a boat and left Cuba for the United States, according to the lawsuit. They were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and eventually settled in Woodburn.

He was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia in 1986, the lawsuit said. He was sent to the state hospital after he was found guilty except for insanity of attempted murder after a violent attack on his mother. He had been at the hospital about 15 years when he died.

The family's lawsuit alleged that Perez repeatedly complained about chest pain to his mother, but hospital staff ignored her attempts to get help for him. The lawsuit also alleged that hospital staff failed to document his vital signs or complete reports about his medical condition in violation of hospital policy.

Five people were disciplined following an investigation into Perez's death. A psychiatrist and the hospital's then-superintendent were forced to resign.

The settlement was signed May 20. It was disclosed to The Associated Press under Oregon's public records law. The state and more than two dozen people named in the lawsuit do not admit liability in the settlement.

Through their lawyer, Richard King, Perez's relatives declined to comment.

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