ANOKA (AP) -- Top officials at the state psychiatric hospital in Anoka ignored repeated warnings about illegal drugs and other safety concerns long before a patient died from a heroin overdose, state officials concede.
Those officials now acknowledge that for at least two years administrators at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center failed to adequately respond to complaints and concerns of patients' families, staff physicians, police and mental-health advocates.
The warnings included an Anoka police department recommendation in 2000 to beef up security to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the hospital.
After the overdose death in May of Brandon Jarboe, 23, and investigations that followed, the hospital imposed new security procedures and stricter rules on visitors.
Nevertheless, two months after Jarboe died, another patient overdosed on heroin smuggled into the hospital. That patient survived after getting medical care at another hospital. And police reports say marijuana has been found in the facility as recently as two weeks ago.
"The facility missed or ignored signs of serious drug issues," said Wes Kooistra, acting deputy commissioner of the state Department of Human Services.
Mike Tessneer, acting assistant commissioner of human services said last week that effective security policies will take time. But the goal "is to get drugs out of the treatment environment," he added.
Tessneer and other officials said they can't explain why earlier warnings about patient safety were ignored and other signs of problems were missed. Kooistra said an investigation to answer those questions will be launched after staff members are retrained and security improvements are completed.
The 200-bed hospital cares for acutely ill psychiatric patients committed by courts in the Twin Cities area because of mental illness, chemical dependency or both.
Two psychiatrists said they quit because the hospital wouldn't deal with the problems.
"It was a disaster waiting to happen," said Dr. Jonathan Uecker, who resigned last year after four years on the Anoka staff.
According to a summary of internal hospital reports, Anoka has had 400 confirmed drug or alcohol incidents since late 1999, with 139 cases in 2000 and 155 in 2001.
In a memo to hospital officials on April 4, 2000, the Anoka Police Department, which advises the hospital on security, recommended six steps to keep alcohol and illegal drugs off the grounds.
Among them: search patients when they return to the facility, search rooms of patients suspected of drug use, use drug-sniffing dogs to find contraband so patients see that the hospital is serious about the issue, and make visitors leave purses, bags, coats and jackets at the entrance.
But hospital officials did not make substantial changes at the time.
"The philosophy was that this is an open hospital," Capt. Tom Anderson said. "They wanted to establish trusting relations with the patients for the purpose of treatment and allow them freedom."
Hospital officials now have adopted the police recommendations and other measures. Some drug traffic has continued, including five drug-related violations in August.
Psychiatrists who used to work at the facility said they ran into a wall of indifference when they complained about the availability of illicit drugs and patients who were trading sex for favors.
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