State officials said Wednesday that they fired three Cherry Hospital employees and disciplined others after the death of a mental patient who went without food, water and care for more than 22 hours. The man's widow said she cannot believe the hospital is still open.
Steven Sabock, 50, who was being treated at the Goldsboro hospital for bipolar disorder, died April 29 after he choked on medication, hit his head and was left in a chair. Hospital employees played cards and watched television nearby. Security camera footage released Tuesday shows that some Cherry employees falsified records and lied to investigators in an attempt to cover up negligence in the death.
In a written statement issued Wednesday by the state Department of Health and Human Services, officials said three employees were dismissed after Sabock's death. One received a five-day suspension, while four others received three-day suspensions. Five employees received written warnings.
Two others resigned, though it is not clear their leaving the hospital was tied to Sabock's case.
Those who remain at Cherry are undergoing a retraining program and have been moved to jobs off the ward where Sabock died. They receive weekly observation and supervision by a nurse supervisor.
Susan Sabock of Winchester, Va., who was married to Steven Sabock for 25 years, said she was able to watch only a few minutes of the video Wednesday before she started crying and couldn't bear to see more. One of the most disturbing things, she said, is that the video showing her husband's neglect would likely have never have been reviewed had he not died.
“It's very hard for me to watch, but of what I've seen, it's the most disgusting thing I can imagine,” she said. “It's like we're in a bad dream and we just can't get up. How is this hospital still open? I just don't understand.
“What kind of country do we live in where this could happen?”
The SBI, which launched a criminal investigation in August, is continuing to investigate. Though patient neglect is a crime, none of the Cherry employees responsible for Sabock's care has been charged.
Wednesday's statement was released in response to questions submitted Tuesday after requests for interviews with the hospital's director, Jack St. Clair, and nursing director Bonnie Gray were denied.
Gray prepared an April 29 report on the death of Sabock, a carpenter who had lived in Roanoke Rapids. The report, given to regulators in Raleigh and to a state medical examiner, included measurements for Sabock's vital signs that the video proves employees never took.
The nursing director's report also omitted key details of Sabock's final day, including the incident where he choked and fell, though she should have had access to internal hospital records that detailed the event.
As for Sabock's daze during the 22 hours he sat without food or water, Gray wrote: “Patient was sleepy all day, and oral intake was poor.”
Gray again declined a request for an interview Wednesday.
The state medical examiner who autopsied Sabock's body later concluded he died of a pre-existing heart condition, though the pathologist did note that his brain showed signs of “mild generalized edema,” or an accumulation of fluid that can indicate injury.
The department's statement said Cherry's administrators had been ordered to review the hospital's initial account “to determine what if any inaccurate information is contained within that report and to supplement the report in the event that additional information that is now available contradicts the report that was released immediately after Mr. Sabock's death.”