Pregnant employee stabbed by patient at Riverview says state should have protected her, files lawsuit

Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew
Scott Thistle | Sun Journal
Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew
Posted May 20, 2014, at 4:16 p.m.
Last modified May 20, 2014, at 6:13 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A mental health worker who was stabbed repeatedly by a patient wielding a pen at Riverview Psychiatric Center last year is suing the Department of Health and Human Services, claiming the state failed to protect her from a man known to be violent.

Jamie Hill-Spotswood was 18 weeks pregnant on March 16, 2013, when she was stabbed several times in the head and hands by Mark Murphy, a patient at the Augusta psychiatric hospital, who had been diagnosed with a range of mental health conditions including PTSD, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder with psychosis.

In a civil lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Hill-Spotswood said that less than a week before the attack, she had told her boss, Roland Pushard, that she felt unsafe, but nothing was done to protect her.

Hill-Spotswood names both DHHS and its commissioner, Mary Mayhew, as defendants in her complaint, and is seeking compensation for medical bills associated with the attack, legal fees and other damages. Her attorney, Michael Waxman of Portland, said Hill-Spotswood is currently on leave from the hospital, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Murphy had been violent at Riverview before, the complaint states, and had also threatened several patients and employees over the years, but Hill-Spotswood claims she was never warned specifically about Murphy.

In a court document filed by Waxman, Hill-Spotswood alleges the attack left her “disfigured and emotionally damaged.”

“This attack by Mr. Murphy could easily have been prevented had DHHS taken reasonable security measures to prevent foreseeable, grave harm to be visited upon its employees, like Ms. Hill-Spotswood,” Waxman wrote. “DHHS’s conduct, in creating a dangerous situation, placing Ms. Hill-Spotswood directly into that dangerous situation, and failing to protect her from the grave danger it created, violates her civil rights and shocks the conscience.”

The lawsuit also alleges that, at the time of the attack, there was no security on the floor where Hill-Spotswood worked, which housed forensic patients, and that there was no training for handling violent patients.

In January of this year, a Kennebec County Superior Court judge disagreed with Murphy’s claim that his mental state left him unaccountable for his actions, ruling that it was anger over lost privileges — not delusion — that caused him to attack Hill-Spotswood. Murphy was found guilty of three felony assault charges in January of this year.

Efforts to reach spokesmen for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Attorney General’s Office were unsuccessful.

The assault on Hill-Spotswood triggered new security protocols at Riverview, including the placement of law enforcement officers within the hospital.

A subsequent investigation by the federal government led to the hospital losing its accreditation b ecause of overcrowding, inadequate staff and the use of methods such as handcuffs and Tasers to subdue violent patients.

The loss of accreditation led to a reduction of $20 million in federal funding, and became a political football through most of the recently concluded legislative session. A supplemental budget approved by the Legislature in April earmarked $900,000 for security at Riverview and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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