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She quit her job after a nursing home patient attack: 'It's a broken system'

Posted at 1:59 PM, May 09, 2023

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. — Cassie Ortiz gets emotional when talking about the patients she grew close with while she worked at a nursing home.

"When she was at the hospital her last words to her son was, tell Cassie I love her, and then she passed," Ortiz said.

Ortiz loved the job so much, she was finishing up her MBA to become a nursing home administrator before a situation prompted a change of heart.

"It's hard for me to leave something I absolutely love," Ortiz said. "I will never pursue it at this point."

Cassie Ortiz
Cassie Ortiz

Her decision came after a frightening attack inside the Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center where she worked as the Director of Social Work.

"This incident caused you not to pursue becoming an administrator?" CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked.

"Yes, correct because nothing was done for me," she replied.

On September 13, 2022, Ortiz was called to help with a patient who was yelling at other residents.

While trying to calm him, she said he exposed himself and tried to sexually assault her.

"He had my jean jacket with one hand and his other hand on my neck pushing me down," Ortiz said. "I kept asking the patient to let me go, and he said no, that I needed to perform oral sex on him, and he just would not let me go. I was very scared."

Ortiz said the patient also kicked and punched her.

"I would have loved to have done something but I couldn't. My hands were tied because we're not allowed to touch the patients," Ortiz said.

"You were not allowed to fight back?" Hipolit asked.

"No, we are not allowed to touch the patients at all even if they assault us," she replied.

Ortiz said another social worker finally helped her escape.

Once free, she took out an emergency custody order (ECO).

An ECO allows law enforcement to apprehend a person experiencing a mental health crisis and transport them to a hospital for treatment.

"He was taken to the hospital, evaluated and they sent him right back because he was no longer acting out," Ortiz said. "No one asked me if I was OK, no one asked me if I needed counseling, no one gave me time off, it was awful, OK you just gotta go back to work the next day."

On top of that, Ortiz said she was repeatedly asked to intervene and stop this patient's behavior.

"I just didn't do it," she said.

Ortiz ended up reporting the assault to Colonial Heights Police. Police investigated and consulted with prosecutors

Colonial Heights Commonwealth's Attorney Gray Collins said he could not pursue the case because of the patient's mental state at the time of the attack.

"So when I'm trying to convince a jury, or the trier of fact, that this person had the intent to do something, if you are not in the right mind, it's harder to prove that you knew what you were doing," Collins said.

Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center provides short-term rehab and long-term care.

Ortiz said when she was there, more than 20 psych patients lived on site.

"Our job is not to manage psych patients, we are not equipped to do that," Ortiz said.

CBS 6 submitted a public records request to police for 911 calls from the facility over the past year. Those records revealed 18 assault calls to police, two abuse calls, and four sex offense calls.

"There is no accountability," Ortiz said. "Police can't do anything, administrators can't do anything, we can't defend ourselves."

Ortiz said the facility accepts patients with behavioral issues because its owners, Innovative Healthcare Management, wants to ensure as many beds as possible are full.

"It's all about the money, it has nothing to do with the patients and the care they are getting," Ortiz said. "It's a big business."

CBS 6 reached out to various people affiliated with the facility multiple times to find out what they were doing to keep staff and patients safe, but no one has responded to those requests.

CBS 6 even went to the facility and a staff member said she would pass along our number to someone from corporate, but no one has responded.

"The people who are working there need to be protected," Collins said. "And whether that's you need more people in the room and hire more people, or have different policies and procedures, how you go in identifying people who are in mental crisis before it happens, what those triggers are maybe some training, but we're willing to help the facility. I'm sure the police would be willing to help,"

"It's a broken system and your hands are tied," Ortiz said.

Colonial Heights Rehabilitation and Nursing Center received one star in a five-star rating system on Medicare.gov.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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