On Your Side Investigation: State report finds neglect, safety issues and leadership problems at Springfield hospital

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- From not being bathed to putting suicidal patients in rooms with sharp objects. That's what former workers say happens at a psychiatric hospital on Springfield's northside. Ashley Reynolds spent months investigating and now the state is too.

Chances are you know this place at I-44 and National Avenue. Thousands drive by Perimeter's Springfield Behavioral Hospital each day, but very few have been inside. Kelly Collins was a nurse there this summer.

"If it were my son or my husband, there's no way I'd put a family member there. No way. A lot of them don't know where they're at. Who they are. They hear voices. They are fearful people are trying to hurt them," she said.

"There were a lot of elderly patients that weren't getting bathed or bathed property," said Liz Miller. Miller is a former nurse.

"This kid was in handcuffs that night for six hours because we did not have the staff to handle it nor did we have a restraint bed," said Melissa Bush, also a former nurse.

They say the building isn't structured to house these patients.

"They have individual air conditioning units. Most of our patients are on suicide watch. They have sharp edges on them. They could cut themselves. I'm surprised no one has figured that out just yet. I'm sure they will. They have shower curtains instead of having the doors that close on the showers," Collins said.

This week, a nurse snapped photos of a shower curtain and an AC unit for On Your Side and says the situation is not better. We asked the hospital and were sent to a corporate communications person in Georgia. She said the shower curtains meet safety codes. Nurses on the inside tell us patients have attempted suicide with shower curtains. Our AC unit question wasn't answered.

After these nurses left, in mid-September workers with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made an unannounced visit. About a month later, On Your Side obtained a copy of the report filled with deficiencies. The report finds the hospital is not in compliance and 'failures had the potential to affect the quality of care and safety of all patients'. Government workers plan to cut funding by the end of the year if problems are not fixed.

Nurses say management cut staff to the state's minimum levels. Miller describes an incident with limited staff.

"This kid is like 6'4 solid 180 pound muscles. He starts something one night. There's ceiling tiles missing. He tore the hinge off the security door. He blackened the eye of a tech ... female. He punched another tech. He punched security guard and bit him. While that was going on, that incident triggered another kid in the unit who started ... he just had a melt down. Then he started slamming his head on the floor," she said.

"Often, we had to isolate them in a room for a short period of time with a nurse to help calm them down. That took the only nurse on the floor away for 30-45 minutes at a time," said Collins.

While someone is restrained, 'a staff member shall maintain continuous face to face observation'. Inspectors found that didn't always happen. The report goes on to say it 'could cause undue stress and/or harm to the patient'.

To get answers, we went straight to the top. Rick Harding was hired as CEO this spring.

"We prepared and knew there would be struggles with the new business but when Rick came in, I feel like things just got way worse," said Bush.

Harding used to run Clear View Behavioral Health near Denver. Since February, the Colorado Attorney General, CDPHE, Colorado Department of Behavioral Health and the Offices for Medicare and Medicaid Services have been conducting independent investigations into the facility. Earlier this year, our ABC affiliate in Denver spent months investigating Harding. He resigned. Then Perimeter hired him.

At Perimeter government workers found a list of problems under Harding's watch. Failure to conduct abuse investigations, not informing patients of their rights and staff not completing first aid training. After the inspection, Harding wrote up a fifty page Plan of Correction to CMS. Harding responded to every problem and how SBH will fix it. Harding started with reviewing his own job description. Staff will monitor patients in restraint. He'll start an Abuse Prevention Program. All staff will be trained on patient rights.

Shortly after the state accepted Harding's plan, he was replaced. Using Greene County property records, On Your Side found his home. He answered the door and declined to comment. Perimeter's corporate communications person told us 'employee matters are private and confidential'.

We did ask Perimeter for an on-camera interview. The corporate communications person refused saying she 'couldn't swing it' and 'it wasn't in the best interest of the patients and hospital'. She added 'Medicare is not being terminated'. However, state workers tell On Your Side, they'll re-visit the hospital and determine its fate.