Here’s why NC hit this south Charlotte psychiatric center with maximum fine

CHARLOTTE, NC (Cassie Cope and Fred Clasen-Kelly/ The Charlotte Observer)- The state has fined Strategic Behavioral Center $20,000 after finding the facility endangered the health and safety of its patients, according to a letter sent to the CEO of the south Charlotte psychiatric hospital.

The fine is the maximum allowed under state law and was issued for violations of laws designed to protect patients from harm, abuse or neglect, according to the Feb. 14 letter.

Earlier this month, the state shut down admissions of new patients to Strategic's Charlotte facility. The state also recommended Strategic not receive money from Medicaid, a joint state and federal health insurance program for the needy that covers the cost for most of Strategic's patients.

A state health official warned in a separate letter to the CEO of Strategic's parent company that the Charlotte location's staff should act with a sense of urgency "to bring the Charlotte facility back into full and lasting compliance."

"In the coming days, in unannounced visits, staff with our Division of Health Service Regulation will return to your Charlotte facility," DHHS deputy secretary Mark Benton wrote. "If it appears that demonstrative and lasting improvements have not been made or if additional issues are identified, we will take even more stringent enforcement action, up to and including a suspension or revocation of your license."

Strategic is owned by a Tennessee company that runs mental treatment centers in six states, including three in North Carolina.

A third letter to Strategic said "facility staff neglected to implement policies, procedures, elopement precautions and supervise patients with a known history of eloping and running away," citing a specific escape on Feb. 6 that required police intervention.

That's after a New Year's Day incident when 10 children, as young as 12, broke out of the center.

DHHS has said the hospital's failure to secure doors and provide proper supervision helped lead to the New Year's Day escape and an assault on staff.

Articles published in The Observer have detailed allegations from patients, including a girl who says she had sex with a staff member. In another case, a teen said a hospital worker called patients "b---hes and dumba---s" and slapped him in retaliation for being spit on.

A North Carolina mom also said workers at Strategic put her teen daughter in a "protective hold" at least 38 times during a five-month period. Research shows physical restraints can cause unnecessary trauma to patients who are already struggling.