Cumberland Hospital in New Kent County, Virginia has been dogged by allegations of improper conduct, including possible child abuse and neglect, for years. Now, one registered nurse, who wishes to remain anonymous, is speaking out about her experiences during her time at the facility after resigning from her post earlier this year.
She reports two incidents in which several of her former colleagues abused her patients. They involve graphic scenes that would keep any provider up at night. The facility is still under investigation, but she says time is of the essence. “People need to know it’s not safe there,” the RN told a local news outlet.
A Visit from the Virginia Department of Health
Reports indicate that Cumberland Hospital has been hit with multiple complaints since 2017. Several staff members are currently being investigated by the Virginia State Police, according to spokesperson Corrine Geller.
A local CBS News outlet began reporting on these investigations and the ongoing allegations of abuse back in February 2020. That’s when the Virginia Department of Health said it was about to begin its latest probe into the facility.
Officials say they are investigating the facility on behalf of the Centers for Medicaid/Medicare Services (CMS) and are interviewing doctors, patients, and staff. Reports show that VDH investigators were at the facility from February 13th through March 4th to monitor patient care.
The RN, who’s been in the industry for 14 years, says she was initially skeptical of the investigation.
“When I saw that story, I was 1,000% team Cumberland. I’m like I can’t believe this, I have not seen anything like this. There’s no way this is true. It bothered me on a serious level because I did not believe that I was in a place that would allow these things to happen,” she recalls.
But then she started seeing how dangerous her workplace can be.
“It was once the state arrived, and they started to investigate after that report is literally when I started to see things and see the abuse.”
Incidents of Abuse
In February, surveillance video footage shows a staff member grabbing a patient with autism and dragging them across the floor. A report from the investigation says that a staff member grabbed the patient’s ankles and pulled the patient to the floor after the patient appeared to spit at the staffer’s face while seated on a couch. The patient’s head and neck then hit the floor.
The video goes on to show the staff member punching the patient in the chest and stomach several times before dragging them approximately 15 feet across the floor.
Reports indicate that the facility let the employee finish their shift before firing them the following day.
The RN witnessed a similar incident when a behavioral tech assaulted one of her patients in the bathroom around the same time.
“I went in to administer her medication, she spits it out, not a big deal, I can redo that. But before I could even walk away, the behavioral tech hit her in the head and screamed at her. I immediately responded, why she did that, what did she think she was doing. She tried to justify it and said that she knew better. Well, this is a young girl who is non-verbal and autistic she did not know better and even if she did that is no excuse to put your hands on a child or a patient.”
For the RN, it was shocking, to say the least. “I couldn’t wrap my head around what I just witnessed. I could not stop crying. I could not gain control over my emotions thinking about that little girl.”
A few moments later, she reported the incident to her supervisor, but it wasn’t easy. Now, she’s encouraging others to do the same. “I could barely get the words out. To speak up, you absolutely have to, otherwise, you’re just as guilty as they are if you don’t speak.”
However, the facility didn’t fire the BT as the RN expected. Instead, the facility said the allegation was “unfounded,” so the staff member stayed on.
The RN says it was her word against theirs. “This was off-camera. This was in the bathroom, so it was her word against mine. I’m a registered nurse. She’s a behavioral tech, there is rank there however, it seemed to do no good,” she said.
In yet another incident, the RN says she saw one of her former colleagues nearly suffocate a child after they spit up blood. Instead of holding the towel over their head, the staffer put it onto their head while holding their hand over the child’s nose and mouth.
She reported that incident, too, and the facility found evidence of wrongdoing, citing the staffer’s failure to keep the towel four to six inches in front of the patient’s face during restraint.
Overall, reports show the facility has been hit with 27 complaints since January 2018.
The hospital’s CEO Garrett Hamilton maintains that the facility is doing everything it can to keep patients safe, saying, “any complaint or allegation is taken seriously, investigated thoroughly and addressed as appropriate.”
Standing Up for Patients
While investigations from the Virginia Department of Health are ongoing, patient advocates are calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to expedite the process by closing the facility as soon as possible.
After resigning, the RN says it’s time for everyone to speak up. “I realized me continuing to work there made me part of that darkness, made me part of the bad. Once I had that realization and that shifted mindset, I could no longer go back. When I realized I no longer could return to Cumberland, this is the only way I can help these children is to speak up.”
Closing the facility prematurely may be what’s best for the patients. As the RN said, “It may be best to get your child from that facility. Again, I am not saying it is all bad. It is not. However, what’s it worth? Is it worth the chance that your child will be abused next? Is it worth the chance that it’s already happened, and they can’t speak on it?”
Gov. Northam told the VDH to be “exhaustive” in its investigation. The Department said it has submitted its findings to CMS for review and release.