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Official Defends New Head Of MN Security Hospital

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The new head of Minnesota’s hospital for some of its hardest-to-control mentally ill patients used to lead a Maine psychiatric hospital that was sanctioned by federal regulators for failing to provide a safe workplace for employees.

David Proffitt assumed his duties Thursday at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. The Star Tribune reported Friday that he replaced a man who was removed in April for some of the same safety issues that marred Proffitt’s record at The Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Maine. A state report last year cited chronic dysfunction at St. Peter, contending that the facility lacked accountability, employees feared for their safety and unstable patients were too often restrained or isolated because of inadequate staff training.

Maureen O’Connell, the Minnesota assistant commissioner of human services, stood by her decision to hire Proffitt. She told with The Associated Press on Friday that Proffitt went through an extensive series of interviews and reference checks that convinced her that he was the best choice. She said she was satisfied with his answers about what happened at Acadia and that he had learned from the experience.

Proffitt resigned in April as president and CEO of Acadia, a 100-bed private nonprofit acute care psychiatric hospital. In January, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the hospital $11,700 for failing to provide a safe workplace for its employees. OSHA found that from 2008 through 2011, violent patients had assaulted staff members at least 115 times. The agency began the investigation after employees complained that Proffitt’s efforts to eliminate the use of restraints had let to a sharp increase in worker injuries.

OSHA’s announcement did not mention Acadia’s restraints policy, and the hospital issued a statement at the time saying an OSHA compliance officer specifically told hospital officials their restraint policy “was not related to staff injuries or assaults.”

Proffitt said some press reports have inaccurately described practices there as a “no restraints” policy. He told the AP he always allowed restraints in limited circumstances at both hospitals he led in Maine, and that Acadia’s policy was similar to St. Peter’s, albeit not as long. He said he’ll never prohibit all use of restraints, but will keep working to reduce the need for them.

The Minnesota Security Hospital’s 11-page policy says restraints and seclusion may be imposed on patients only “to ensure the immediate physical safety of the patient, a staff member or others and must be discontinued at the earliest possible time.” It says the facility is committed to “prevent, reduce and strive to eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion” while preserving patients’ safety and dignity.

O’Connell said psychiatric hospitals across the nation have been struggling with the issue, but the trend has been to minimize the use of restraints and seclusion on out-of-control patients.

“It is something that we constantly are monitoring and we are constantly trying to strike the right balance,” she said.

Restraining patients breaks down the trust that they need to have in their therapists for their treatment to succeed, Proffitt said.

“It’s a scary thing and being scared doesn’t typically help people respond well to your assistance,” he said.

The Star Tribune also first reported Friday that O’Connell did not tell her superior, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, about Proffitt’s problems in Maine before hiring him.

O’Connell confirmed that. She said she had been under the impression that Jesson knew, and that she made a mistake by not making sure of it. But she also said that while Jesson met with some of the candidates, she was not formally part of the hiring process.

Proffitt said he hasn’t been at St. Peter long enough to say if it still needs to be turned around. But he said his superiors have made it very clear they want a high quality, safe and effective care environment. And he said the staff and union leaders he has met in his short time there are dedicated public servants who want to see improvements.

“I really am excited to be here,” he said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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