No charges filed after lengthy Unity Center investigation

Multnomah County

The state began looking into the Unity Center in August 2018

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After a lengthy criminal investigation into how Legacy Health’s Unity Center for Behavioral Health handled abuse reports, there will not be any criminal charges filed.

The investigation confirmed that there were times in which APS screened abuse or neglect reports, but did not notify law enforcement. However, the D.A.’s office, along with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, believe that prosecution isn’t warranted.

The state said there is insufficient evidence that any Multnomah County employee knowingly violated any statues relating to the office of the person, intended to obtain any personal benefit or intentionally harmed another person. There was also no evidence of discrimination.

The state began its investigation in August 2018, in the midst of an internal investigation already going on at Legacy Health.

Legacy Health gradually reopened the Unity Center for Behavioral Health in August after a temporary shut-down due to the safety concerns.

The Northeast Portland facility had closed its doors to EMS transports and transfers from other hospitals at the time. An email to staff said it was to deal with a state investigation. Documents obtained by the Portland Tribune showed the investigation related to employee concerns of understaffing and patient safety, causing one to label the center a “hell hole.”

Kristin Whitney, the Unity spokeswoman for Legacy, issued a statement saying Unity “is ramping up toward normal operations.”

Unity Center began operations in January 2017 in a joint venture of local hospitals and health systems. Local doctors and advocates for the mentally ill had pushed Portland to emulate a specialized emergency ward in Alameda County, California, for people in need of psychiatric care — including those who are homeless. Many psychiatric beds at hospitals in the region were shut down as a result of Unity’s creation.

Since February 2018, the state had been investigating complaints from employees that patients have been assaulting other patients due to poor safety practices and understaffing at Unity.

In March 2018, a report by the state Occupational Safety and Health division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services documented safety problems at Unity and what appeared to be a concern widespread among some employees that the center’s model is not working.

The state investigation discovered about 300 assaults and at least 23 injuries to employees had taken place in the center’s first seven months of the center’s operation. Investigators reported on a culture in which management didn’t seem to know how often employees were being assaulted, and some staffers were afraid to say anything about the assaults — fearing it would hurt their careers.

Legacy at the time refused to comment, citing a lawsuit filed by its employees that faulted it for similar concerns. They later released a statement saying that while mistakes were made during the center’s first year, officials are committed to fixing things and being fully transparent, citing safety concerns highlighted by OHA.

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