South Sound News

DSHS to pay $900,000 to settle abuse claims from family of 74-year-old psychiatric patient

TACOMA, Wash. — The state Department of Social and Health Services has agreed to pay $900,000 to the estate of a 74-year-old woman who allegedly was neglected and abused as a patient at Western State Hospital.

A lawsuit brought by the woman’s daughter alleged that Sharon K. Struthers suffered injuries from falls and from being assaulted by other patients at the facility and that she didn’t get appropriate care while she was there.

DSHS, which oversees Western State, declined to comment on the settlement when reached by The News Tribune on Tuesday.

Struthers was involuntarily committed to the inpatient psychiatric facility due to emotional distress and depression in February 2013 and was discharged in April 2015, according to court records.

She died the next year.

“She came into Western State ambulatory and left in a wheelchair after a significant fall,” attorney James Beck, who represented Struthers’ daughter Lisa K. Bowser, told The News Tribune. “Our position on it was that the poor treatment that she received there materially caused her demise.”

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Congestive heart failure, aortic stenosis, atrial fibrillation and bipolar disease were found to have caused or contributed to her death, he said.

Beck occasionally represents The News Tribune.

The lawsuit, which was officially settled Friday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, gives this account of Struthers’ time at Western State:

She broke her arm, her hip, suffered a head injury and had various bruises and cuts from falls and assaults by other patients.

The hospital didn’t diagnose and treat her congestive heart failure until her family “objected to the lack of care and medical attention she had been receiving.”

She also had an abnormal mammogram and subsequent biopsy and mastectomy, after which she experienced “untimely medical attention, lack of wound care and lack of assistance with personal hygiene.”

Additionally, Western State put her in restraints, and “failed to treat Ms. Struthers with basic human dignity and denied her assistance with simple daily hygiene.”

She was also “given inappropriate medications” and “sustained drug overdoses,” the lawsuit says.

Beck said there were two times that she was given medication, found unresponsive and taken to another local hospital by ambulance. In one of those instances she was given an emergency drug en-route to the hospital that reverses overdose.

Bowers “was devastated by the way her mom was cared for” at Western State, the attorney said.

The Associated Press reported in July that Bowers said, “They don’t have enough staff to protect patients or provide them with the bare minimum of care.”

She reiterated that to The News Tribune by phone Tuesday.

“There needs to be huge changes from the top down,” she said.

Despite being in constant contact with Western State Hospital staff about her mother, Bower said, “I wasn’t able to make it any safer or for her to have any better care by being her advocate.”

Some patients, she noted, don’t have family members to advocate for them.

Bower said she wrote her state representative and reached out to the media before she brought the lawsuit.

“I was trying,” she said. “My main concern was that I don’t want this to happen to any other family.”