To Tammy Long’s son, Harbor Oaks resembled more of a crime scene than a psychiatric hospital.
“I expected my son to be safe. Not to be harmed,” she said. “His safety was not of their concern.”
He came to the sprawling New Baltimore facility in need of care. He left, prosecutors say, the victim of two brutal crimes.
Ongoing: Michigan mental health reporting
LaDon Nevils, who spent just over a year at Harbor Oaks as a behavioral health associate, said she witnessed the hospital failed to live up to it’s promise to provide safe, premier psychiatric care.
“(Families) can’t go home and trust us that their loved one will be okay and bad things won’t happen to them,” Nevils said. “We have so many patients and not enough staff.”
Nevils is one of a handful of other former employees who have spoken to 7 Action News, alleging they witnessed frequent attacks on patients.
Tammy Long’s son, who we’ll call James, came to Harbor Oaks in 2015 after expressing thoughts of suicide. He suffers from bipolar disorder and a developmental delay. He’s 22 today but, mentally, he’s closer to 9 or 10.
“He was there to get the help that he would need,” said Timothy Kirt, James’s stepfather. “For a safe and secure environment.”
But on his first full day in the hospital, James didn’t get better—he got much worse. According to witnesses, he was assaulted by another patient when he was repeatedly punched in the head. It was so bad he had to be taken by ambulance to the nearest emergency room.
“Now he’s been assaulted already once,” his mother recalled. “I requested to bring him home at that time. (Harbor Oaks) told me I could not because he was still hearing voices.”
When he returned to Harbor Oaks, the hospital had arranged for James to have a new roommate, a 44-year-old man with a developmental disability. He came to the hospital after burning down two homes.
“Did you ever ask them to put your son in a room by himself?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“Yes,” Long said.
“And what did they say?” Jones asked.
“They couldn’t because they had too many patients. And they were actually overbooked.”
Long says a nurse told her by phone that they would sedate her son and check on him frequently. Thirty minutes later, she said, they called her back.
“It was the most callous call I ever got in my life. And she said that he’d been raped,” Long said through tears. “And I said, ‘My baby!’ ”
When Long and her husband made it to Harbor Oaks, police were already on the scene.
“Why would a hospital put a young man with a severe developmental delay in the same room as someone with a history of severe violence?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“I have absolutely no idea,” said Nevils, a former Harbor Oaks employee.
Former nurse Linna Sikon, who spent three years at Harbor Oaks, says that money, not safety drove the hospital’s decision to put two patients in a room.
“Management frowned on no roommates,” Sikon said. “When you have two beds in a room, and you can’t fill one of them, then you are losing money by not filling that bed.”
While prosecutors considered charges, the man James said assaulted him would remain at Harbor Oaks.
Less than three weeks later, according to police records, a nurse discovered the 44-year-old with a sedated patient. His pants were down and he admitted to touching her genitalia, telling police that “voices told him to do it.”
Later that year, he would be charged with sexually assaulting both patients at Harbor Oaks. A judge would rule he wasn’t competent to stand trial.
“This facility needs to be thoroughly investigated by the state,” said Mark Reinstein, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association in Michigan.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “We’re talking about actual and potential abuse and neglect. It’s already had some incredibly serious consequences.”
Today, James’s family is preparing a lawsuit against Harbor Oaks. They say it’s the only way to force the hospital to provide the safe, superior care they promised that never came.
“They broke his integrity,” his mother said through tears. “They broke my son.”
Harbor Oaks CEO Sari Abromovich declined an on camera interview. In an e-mail, she wrote:
We are proud of our long history of providing exceptional care to our patients and their families in highly structured treatment programs. Our health care professionals are committed to ensuring the physical and emotional wellbeing of our patients. The alleged incidents took place in 2015 and were reported in accordance with State requirements. Due to federal and state patient privacy and confidentiality laws, we cannot comment on the specific allegations.