Michigan mental hospital nurse pleads for help: "We can't keep people safe"

State, county issue clean bills of health

NEW BALTIMORE, Mich. (WXYZ) - Harbor Oaks psychiatric hospital is so understaffed that abuse runs rampant, according to a current nurse at the New Baltimore facility.

“I was screaming and yelling and begging, please give us more staff,” said Charmaine Allagreen, who has worked as an registered nurse there since last year.  

“We can’t do this, we can’t keep people safe.”

RELATED: Click here to file a complaint against a health facility

During a four-month investigation, 7 Action News has spoken to six former employees who say their cries for help went ignored.  Allagreen is the first current employee to appear on camera.

“The whole reason I decided to become a nurse was to protect people,” she said. “And I can’t do it anymore.”

Allagreen is breaking her silence out of frustration, she says, that the hospital has evaded accountability from watchdogs for chronic understaffing that she says has contributed to attacks on staff—more than 70 documented cases since 2013—and untold patient abuse.  

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Allagreen herself has been off work since October after she was attacked by a patient, suffering a concussion, damage to her spine and ribs and vision problems.

“How much of the abuse that you have seen firsthand do you think could have been prevented by appropriate staffing?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“Probably about 90%,” Allagreen said.

In response to WXYZ’s reports on Harbor Oaks, officials with Macomb County Community Mental Health made a recent visit to the facility. Mark Mishal is the director of recipient rights, which investigates claims of abuse against the county’s clients. 

In a scheduled visit to meet with hospital management, Mishal reported that he saw nothing of concern.

“Did you talk to any staff members that weren’t management when you made your visit?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“I did not,” Mishal responded.

“Did you talk to any nurses?” Jones asked.

“I did not,” he said.

“Why not?” Jones asked.

“That’s a good question,” Mishal responded. “I probably should.”

After our interview, Mishal said he plans to reach out to nurses—both past and present—about any safety concerns they’ve witnessed inside Harbor Oaks.

The state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs also reacted to WXYZ's reports, sending state investigators to Harbor Oaks last month. They spent just over 6 hours surveying the facility. 

According to Larry Horvath, the Director of the Bureau of Community and Health Systems, investigators reviewed recent staffing levels and interviewed hospital management before concluding the hospital was in “substantial compliance.” But like county regulators, they didn’t talk to a single nurse or health assistant—the very people alleging unsafe work conditions at Harbor Oaks.

“Keep in mind the department has received no complaints from any of the healthcare professionals,” Horvath said.

“Would you not consider six former employees and current employees saying this facility is not safe based on the staffing levels, would you say that doesn’t count as a complaint?” Jones asked. 

“What I would encourage is anyone that has a concern about staffing levels at any licensed or federally certified facility is that they should reach out and file a complaint with the department,” Horvath said, adding that investigators could return to Harbor Oaks if new allegations are made.

Charmaine Allagreen says she has a story to tell watchdogs.  She hopes they’re ready to listen.

“Since your news broadcast, there’s been patients sexually assaulted and physically assaulted.  And staff has been hurt. And it’s a daily thing,” Allagren said.

“And yet the state and the county say everything looks good to us,” Jones said.

“Maybe there’s a problem with the state and the county,” Allagreen said.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or (248) 827-9466.

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