Report Says St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring Has Serious Safety Problems

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Silver Spring psychiatric hospital that specializes in treating Catholic clergy has been cited for problems that are "serious in nature," according to a report from Maryland health officials who investigated the facility after a patient drowned himself in a bathtub there in January.

A report by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said St. Luke Institute has left potentially suicidal patients in unsafe environments, had inadequate staff to monitor high-risk patients, unsafely stored medicines and kept poor notes on patients -- including one whose log showed only his admittance and his discharge six months later.

St. Luke, which sees about 600 people a year, almost all of them priests and nuns, drew attention after the suicides of two priests, one in 2001 and one in 2002. At the time, the state cited the hospital for failing to report to police disclosures of suspected sex abuse by clergy if the alleged incidents took place outside of Maryland. But the state attorney general's office later said such reports were not required.

The state health department at the time ordered St. Luke to restrict its admissions and make improvements, and the national Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations moved to revoke its accreditation but never did.

The systemic problems cited in the report issued Feb. 26 were "not as deep" as the problems found in 2002, said Wendy Kronmiller, director of the department's Office of Health Care Quality.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, president of St. Luke, said the facility is not an acute care psychiatric hospital and not intended to handle patients deemed serious suicide risks. The hospital does not have locked rooms, and staff members are supposed to send patients they believe have become suicidal to another hospital.

St. Luke, which Rossetti said is the largest hospital in the world focused on Catholic clergy, this week wrote a plan to correct the problems and is awaiting state approval.

Kronmiller said, however, that St. Luke is licensed to care for potential suicide risks. But she acknowledged that the hospital is not equipped as well as others to handle the most severe mental health cases.

Experts in clergy sexual abuse, which is related to the cases of a small minority of the patients St. Luke treats, say the facility on New Hampshire Avenue has upgraded its programs. The facility is accredited but will be required to submit a report and correction plan to the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare because of the recent suicide.

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