State closes ward where dying man was ignored

The state is closing an adult admissions ward at Cherry Hospital, a state psychiatric facility in Goldsboro, where a dying man was ignored by nursing staff.

The head of the state Department of Health and Human Services said the 16 staffers on duty at the time of the death have been removed from direct patient care duties and given other assignments for a period of at least 60 days.

One nurse had resigned in the wake of the death, DHHS Secretary Dempsey Benton said at a media conference Friday.

Those involved in the incident who remain on the hospital staff will receive more training until the hospital director decides they are ready to resume caring for patients under the supervision of a training director.

Steven Sabock, 50, died at the mental hospital April 29, after sitting in a chair for more than 22 hours without food or help using the bathroom. Hospital staff members were captured by security video playing cards and watching television in the room where Sabock sat.

“We deeply regret that Mr. Sabock died, and that it occurred while a patient at Cherry Hospital,” Benton said. “The department finds the circumstances related to this tragic death at Cherry Hospital completely unacceptable.”

The closure reduces the admissions section from 90 beds to 67 in the three wards that will remain open. The total bed capacity of the hospital will drop from 274 to 251. Patients were transferred to Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh and Central Regional Hospital in Butner.

Benton said Jack St. Clair, the director at Cherry, has been working to improve care at the hospital, which has had several patient beatings and questionable deaths in the past two years. Though he insisted St. Clair was up to the task of fixing the problems, Benton said he was not satisfied with the level of follow-up after Sabock's death, including the hospital's internal investigation and the level of actions taken against those who had been responsible for Sabock's care.