Oregon National Guardsman Removed From Oregon State Hospital Duty

Oregon State Hospital in Salem by Ben Botkin TLR WEB.jpg

State officials removed a Guardsman from duty at the Oregon State Hospital after an investigation into alleged sexual remarks to patients, records obtained by The Lund Report show.

The Guard issued a reprimand in the case, said Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the Oregon Military Department. The case is the only misconduct-related removal of a Guard member from the state hospital, he said. 

The case shows that the state hospital’s reliance on outside agencies for staffing during the pandemic has come with complications. As The Lund Report first reported, last month a mental health aide with Colorado-based Jogan Health punched a patient several times in the face who’d called him racial epithets, later telling investigators he was fearful about what the patient may do to him. That aide is no longer at the state hospital. 

The state hospital in February investigated the allegations involving the Guard member, as potential sexual abuse or harassment involving a patient. The investigation found insufficient evidence to prove the crime of sexual abuse, but flagged inappropriate behavior and conversations, records show. The Oregon Health Authority cited the outcome of the case to redact the man’s name from reports because the sexual abuse was not substantiated. Instead it was referred to an internal human resources investigation.

“After (a) preliminary investigation, the determination was inappropriate conduct unbecoming of a professional work environment,” Bomar said of the internal investigation. “As our Guard members on this assignment are considered temporary state employees, the individual was released.”

Thirty Guard members are deployed at Oregon State Hospital.  The Oregon National Guard’s mission started in June 2021 as a 67-day deployment scheduled to end in August 2021 with a $1.2 million budget, contract records show. Since then, the mission grew longer amid a shortage of staff and the omicron surge of COVID-19.  The mission’s cost is now limited to $4.9 million, with its end scheduled for June 30.  

Misinformation Led To Records

Early this month The Lund Report published an article about an Oregon Health Authority spokesperson’s claim that a National Guard member assigned to the state hospital was removed from the facility after an altercation with an inmate.

“I can confirm a National Guard member was involved in an altercation with a patient and is no longer deployed at the hospital,” health authority spokesperson Aria Seligmann said in an April 5 email to The Lund Report. 

At the time, authority officials repeatedly declined to answer further questions about the altercation. 

Records requests following up on the official account revealed a different picture. In reality, there were two separate incidents of an entirely different nature, involving different Guard members.

After the February investigation of alleged sexual abuse, an investigation concluded the Guard member behaved unprofessionally. He is no longer on duty at the hospital.

As The Lund Report first reported, in the March 23 incident a Guard member helped a patient during an altercation and tried to get between  him and a temporary staffer who was punching him. 

The Guard member who helped the patient March 23 remains on duty, said Stephen Bomar, spokesperson for the Oregon Military Department, on Monday.

“That is a separate, completely unrelated circumstance … which resulted in an overall positive outcome,” Bomar said. “This Guard member is in fact still mobilized and continues to be an asset to the team and to the State Hospital mission.”

In contrast, the Guard member investigated for potential sexual abuse received a reprimand, Bomar said.

Asked about the earlier, erroneous information, Seligmann said hospital staff who provided her with the information may have been confused.

Investigation Started in February 

Records documenting the investigation in February show that a registered nurse heard from a patient that a Guard member enjoyed watching that patient and another one cuddle on a bed and made sexually inappropriate remarks to patients. 

At that point, investigators started talking to the two patients.

One patient told investigators the Guard member appeared to linger in the hallway and watch them.

The alleged remarks came in different settings.

For example, a patient alleged the Guard member told her it was a “nice spread eagle” when she was doing stretching exercises. The two patients also reported hearing him use the phrase “break you in,” which both interpreted in a sexual manner, when he watched them.

Neither patient alleged any physical contact with the Guard member.

Investigators’ review of security camera footage raised questions about the Guard member’s interactions with the patients as he made rounds at about 3 a.m. on Feb. 1. While stopping at the room of one of the patients who later raised red flags, the Guard member stopped and looked inside the window for about 17 seconds, moving in closer to apparently get a better look, the report said. Unlike the other rooms, the Guard member did not point a flashlight in the rooms, the report said.

Later that same night, at about 3:37 a.m., the Guard member stopped again at the same patient’s door. Security footage shows he looked inside the window and gave someone a thumbs-up and appeared to talk to someone for about 11 seconds, according to the report.

The Guard member later brought the patients each a cup of water that same night. That visit to their rooms took about four minutes as he talked to the patients, security footage showed.

Interactions With Staff Cited

The registered nurse whose account launched the investigation told investigators he never witnessed the Guard member behave inappropriately around patients during a three-month period, the report says.

However, the nurse did hear complaints that the Guard member made inappropriate comments around co-workers.

Mental health aides also raised concerns with investigators about the Guard’s behavior around them, the report says. 

One mental health aide told investigators she referred to the Guard member as a “creeper.”

That aide told investigators that one day, soon after meeting the Guard member, she was  taking a nap in the employee break room.

The Guard member, without warning, went  up to her and started touching her hair, the worker said. 

“If you touch me again, I’ll punch (you) in the face,” the aide said she told the Guard member.

She said her coworkers had “similar experiences” with the man, according to the report.

Another mental health aide told investigators the Guard member talked to her, without prompting, about his marriage and lackluster sex life. The Guard member told her he and his wife “weren’t having sex,” the report said. 

He later allegedly invited the aide to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. She declined, and told investigators she heard the Guard member was “hitting on” other staff members.

Guard Member Defends Actions

The Guard member denied making sexually inappropriate comments to patients. 

However,  the Guard member acknowledged he shared too much with a patient and talked about a former girlfriend, according to the report. When discussing that past relationship, the Guard member told the patient they "broke each other in.” 

The Guard member stressed the comment wasn’t directed at the patient. 

When the investigator asked if that comment was a reference to sex, the Guard member said: “Yup.” 

The Guard member said he is a “talker” and the patients may have heard him joking with staff, the report says. He added that some of those jokes may have had a sexual innuendo.

When the investigator asked if his relationship with one of the patients had become “too flirty,” the Guard member said the patient had asked questions about his personal life and marriage. 

“I don’t share my personal life with people,” the Guard member added. 

 You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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