NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. -- A former registered nurse at Cumberland Hospital, a New Kent County medical center under criminal investigation for child abuse and neglect, has sounded the whistle as state health officials investigated new claims of abuse.
“People need to know it's not safe there," the registered nurse, who asked not to be identified, said.
The RN said she was speaking out after she said she resigned from her position at the facility over child abuse allegations she said she witnessed.
“I, [name redacted], do hereby resign from my position as a Registered Nurse at Cumberland Children's Hospital effective immediately. I am requesting that I retain all earned income as well as not be required to pay back any portion of my sign-on bonus considering the driving force behind my resignation, child abuse. I personally have made reports against another staff member on multiple occasions and the abusive staff member is still employed at Cumberland caring for children who cannot speak for themselves. My soul will not allow me to continue employment within a facility where children are knowingly abused without appropriate action being taken. This same employee argued with me as to why she felt it was justified and stated the child 'knew better.' Under no circumstances is abuse against a patient, much less a special needs child, appropriate in any fashion!” the registered nurse wrote in a resignation email to Cumberland’s CEO."
The email was sent July 29, 2020, five months after a CBS 6 investigation uncovered numerous allegations of neglect and abuse against staff members being criminally investigated by the Virginia State Police since October 2017.
That investigation “remains ongoing," according to Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrine Geller.
"When I saw that story, I was 1,000% team Cumberland. I’m like I can't believe this, I have not seen anything like this. There's no way this is true. It bothered me on a serious level because I did not believe that I was in a place that would allow these things to happen,” said the RN. “It was once state arrived, and they started to investigate after that report is literally when I started to see things and see the abuse.”
As the CBS 6 investigation unfolded in February, state health officials said they were just beginning their latest probe.
“This is a privately-run hospital that is regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, like all other private medical providers. Over the past two years, VDH’s Office of Licensure and Certification has completed over 30 investigations at Cumberland Hospital, including investigations into allegations of sexual assault,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said.
The reports confirmed the Virginia Department of Health was on the ground at the hospital daily from February 13 through March 4, to monitor staff and resident safety.
“These investigations involved interviews, observed care, referrals to the Department of Health Professions, and reviews of documents, policies, and procedures,” said Dr. Oliver. “VDH OLC conducts these investigations on behalf of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Investigation reports have been submitted to CMS, and will be available to the public after CMS has finalized them.”
While the VDH was at Cumberland, the nurse of 14 years started seeing things in a whole new light.
"I started to witness these things while the state was there. While they were there, up our butts, day in and day out. That's when I started to see it, so I was absolutely flabbergasted at this and the fact that the people were still behaving inappropriately,” the RN said.
Like a staff member who is documented in the report as being involved in an ‘incident of abuse’ on February 12, 2020, exactly one week after our investigation into the hospital aired.
“This guy beat another autistic child on that unit who was verbal,” said the RN.
State health officials said surveillance video showed a staff member touch, hit, and drag a patient on the floor.
It goes on to explain while the patient resisted, the staff member grabbed the patient’s ankles and pulled the patient to the floor after the patient appeared to spit at the staff member’s face while seated on a couch.
The video showed the patient’s head and back strike the floor.
It stated the staff member punched the patient in the chest and stomach around four times before dragging him approximately 15 feet across the floor.
The surveyor noted the facility failed to take immediate action by letting the employee finish working until the end of the shift.
The staff member was terminated the following day.
That was the action the RN thought her employer would take when she said a behavior tech assaulted one of her young patients in a bathroom around that same time.
"I went in to administer her medication, she spits it out, not a big deal, I can redo that. But before I could even walk away, the behavioral tech hit her in the head and screamed at her. I immediately responded, why she did that, what did she think she was doing. She tried to justify it and said that she knew better. Well, this is a young girl who is non-verbal and autistic she did not know better and even if she did that is no excuse to put your hands on a child or a patient,” said the RN. “I couldn't wrap my head around what I just witnessed. I could not stop crying. I could not gain control over my emotions thinking about that little girl."
The RN said once the shock wore off, she reported it.
"I reported it to my supervisor. I could barely get the words out. To speak up, you absolutely have to, you have to because otherwise, you're just as guilty as they are if you don't speak," she said.
Cumberland Hospital told CBS 6 the incident was reported to the state, but the allegation was determined to be unfounded.
The RN said the BT remained employed.
“This was off-camera. This was in the bathroom, so it was her word against mine. I'm a registered nurse. She's a behavioral tech, there is rank there however, it seemed to do no good,” she said.
But the RN said there would be another incident with the same BT and a different patient.
“It has shook me to my core,” she explained.
But this time, she said it was caught on camera inside the hospital's dayroom.
“This child was spitting blood. So when that happens, you hold a towel over their head, well over so obviously it’s not restricting their breath. When they asked for a towel she put the towel onto his head and then put her hand over his mouth and his nose at that point I screamed she was suffocating him and she needed to remove herself," she said.
The incident was documented as a deficiency in the state health investigative report dated August 20.
It determined the facility failed to ensure their practice of placing a towel four to six inches in front of a patient’s face during restraint.
“The two referenced incidents were appropriately reported and investigated by the State,” Cumberland Hospital’s CEO Garrett Hamilton said. “Neither resulted in a citation for attempted/actual injury to a child. One allegation was determined to be unfounded; the other required an update to our Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) training, which is an internationally recognized approach we use for the safe management of disruptive and assaultive behaviors in patients.
“Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents has been, and continues to be, in good standing with our licensing and regulatory authorities. We are surveyed regularly, and like many healthcare facilities, address any deficiencies that may be cited. Further any compliant or allegation is taken seriously, investigated thoroughly and addressed as appropriate."
In reviewing the hospital’s history, state health officials pointed out a ‘concerning number of complaints and reoccurring events.’
Specifically, 27 since January 2018 that involved allegations of patient abuse or harm and an additional six in August of this year.
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“This is not a job you can do just to have a job. You cannot do this job without the heart to do this job. You cannot do this job for a paycheck,” said the RN. “Because to be honest with you, there’s no amount of money that’s worth it because it’s rough. However, helping the children that’s worth it. That’s what makes it worth it. That’s why I did it. That’s why I struggled so hard to leave and battled this on a soul level because I wanted to help these children.
"I realized me continuing to work there made me part of that darkness, made me part of the bad. Once I had that realization and that shifted mindset, I could no longer go back. When I realized I no longer could return to Cumberland, this is the only way I can help these children is to speak up."
"If you're a parent of a child who is a patient at Cumberland right now what would you say to them?” asked CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Laura French.
"It may be best to get your child from that facility,” the RN replied. "Again, I am not saying it is all bad. It is not. However, what's it worth? Is it worth the chance that your child will be abused next? Is it worth the chance that it's already happened, and they can't speak on it?"
“What do you think the state should do this time around?” asked French.
“Shut it down, shut it down until they can revamp. Again, I believe this country literally needs a facility such as Cumberland. I believe Cumberland can be a phenomenal facility. However, it is not there now. It’s just not there. It’s not safe,” she responded.
CBS 6 made repeated attempts to interview Virginia Governor Ralph Northam on these latest allegations and put in a request to sit down with someone with the VDH. Both declined our requests for on-camera interviews.
The Governor, we're told, directed the VDH to be 'exhaustive' in its investigations of the hospital.
“When these serious allegations first came to light, Governor Northam directed Secretary of Health Daniel Carey to ensure that the Virginia Department of Health, in its role as the agency that licenses this hospital, did everything possible to investigate the allegations and protect the health and safety of patients. VDH officials were on the ground in the facility daily to ensure compliance," Governor Northam’s spokesperson Alena Yarmosky said. "VDH has conducted investigations on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, and has submitted final reports to CMS for review and release. Governor Northam and this administration take very seriously the duty to protect the safety of all patients."
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