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Problems Persist at State Mental Hospital

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Thursday, May 30, 2019   

EVANSTON, Wyo. – It's been four years since Wyoming State Hospital staff abandoned a patient without food, water or restroom use for more than 24 hours, and advocates describe patient care as still not up to par at the state's largest mental-health facility.

Concerns continue about poor medication management, and overuse of restraints when people with severe mental illness behave in ways that might threaten themselves or others, according to Emily Smith, executive director of the Wyoming Guardianship Corporation, a group charged by the state with protecting patients.

"When you have a lack of training, funding and staff, the way that those behaviors are addressed is to restrain people rather than to prevent the behaviors in the first place," Smith explained. "You can see that that's becoming an issue."

Wyoming Department of Health officials told the Associated Press that a major remodeling project to create a more open and therapeutic environment, along with other State Hospital improvements set for next spring, should result in improvements.

Officials also noted that federal agencies and guardianship groups help ensure accountability. The department also has faced challenges recruiting psychiatrists and other staff to work in Evanston.

The Associated Press reported that last June, a patient hanged himself with a bedsheet; and in October, a staffer charged with overseeing a patient so she couldn't harm herself pleaded no contest to charges of sexual assault.

Evanston Police Department officials have said they've responded to 82 reports of assaults and other serious incidents at the hospital in the past five years. Smith is convinced that Wyoming residents of the facility, many of whom aren't able to defend themselves, deserve better.

"Those are the most vulnerable people that we have," she insisted. "And if we can't even make sure that those folks have a minimum level of good care, what does that say about us?"

Some 65 patients currently are housed at the State Hospital. Smith's group oversees between 10 and 15 patients, while an additional 30 to 40 clients are represented by the group Wyoming Protection and Advocacy.



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