Anchorage

Patient escapes and damage reported at North Star youth psychiatric hospital over the weekend

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It was a chaotic weekend at North Star hospital, a locked East Anchorage psychiatric facility for children, with patients escaping, damage to the building and five police responses in two days.

The events came days after the Daily News reported that North Star, a for-profit hospital owned by Pennsylvania-based health care giant Universal Health Services, had failed federal investigations earlier this year for escapes, among other problems such as overuse of seclusion and patient-on-patient assaults.

Official accounts of the weekend’s events were still emerging, but at least two people connected to the hospital described a melee involving adolescents.

On Monday, a boarded-up exterior door was visible from the street. Glass remnants were visible in the door frame and scattered on the sidewalk.

In an email Monday, North Star CEO Anne Marie Lynch acknowledged that the hospital “experienced elopements” over the weekend. Police had been called. The hospital sustained “minor damage,” she said.

Lynch didn’t answer specific questions about what happened, citing patient privacy laws. The hospital’s federal regulators know about the incidents, she said. The hospital is also conducting an internal review, she said.

Anchorage Police Department records show officers were called to the hospital five times from Friday to Sunday, with each visit resulting in a police report.

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First, on Friday, police showed up to find “juveniles yelling while banging on doors and windows,” according to a police spokesperson. “The APD officers brought the situation under control.” Nobody was arrested.

Then on Saturday, at least two patients escaped before being rounded up and returned by Anchorage police, according a summary provided by APD.

Police arrived at 11:15 p.m. because two patients “had run away” from the hospital, according to the summary. The two surfaced at the Huffman Carrs grocery just before 10 a.m. the next day, some 13 hours later and 8.5 miles away from the DeBarr Road hospital, according to police. No one was arrested.

A police spokeswoman said reports from the two police responses on Sunday hadn’t come in yet. It’s not clear how many patients escaped over the weekend or the extent of damage.

North Star is one of few places in Alaska for hospitalization of children with serious mental health and behavioral issues. Many of those who end up there are in state Office of Children’s Services custody.

But former patients and families have long complained about the quality of care, saying fights, seclusion, escapes and other problems are pervasive.

North Star’s goal is “to help patients’ gain the most out of the difficult time that brought them to us,” said Lynch, the CEO. “We are committed to offering professional guidance, counseling and support to every person who walks through our doors.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal regulators, didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether a new investigation had been launched in the wake of the weekend’s events.

Reporter Alena Naiden contributed to this story.

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Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at mtheriault@adn.com.

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