NEW BALTIMORE, Mich. (WXYZ) — Her 7-year-old walked into Harbor Oaks Hospital in New Baltimore on a Thursday. He left in an ambulance on Friday.
“When I saw him, it was like he was disoriented, he was in shock almost,” the boy's mother told 7 Investigator Ross Jones. “He was tired, he was crying. I don’t think he even knew what had happened to him.”
What happened to her son, who she has asked that we not name because he is a minor and the alleged victim of a crime, is under investigation by the New Baltimore Police Department.
But his mother says it all should have been prevented by the hospital that was supposed to keep him safe.
Her son, who we’ll call Jacob, suffers from autism, ADHD and disruptive behavior disorder. In many ways he’s like any 7-year-old-boy, but with little notice, the wrong noise or smell can set him off.
“When he hears a sound he doesn’t like, he will punch his ears,” his mother said. “And when he’s really getting upset, he’ll bang his head on the floor.”
After becoming dysregulated, Jacob’s parents feared they couldn’t keep him safe on their own. Doctors wanted to admit him on an inpatient basis, and the first bed available was at Harbor Oaks Hospital.
Over the years, Jacob had already visited a number of Michigan psychiatric hospitals, including Harbor Oaks.
“He didn’t want to go to the hospital. He was already scared,” his mother told us. “I said remember, this is the one you like. This is the one where you have friends. It’s not going to be like the other hospital. I said, this is the one that’s going to keep you safe. And what’s why this has been so hard, because obviously that’s not what happened.”
Less than 24 hours after Jacob was admitted, his mother received a phone call from nursing staff. Her son had been hurt.
Jacob, weighing at less than 60 lbs., had been picked up by a 17-year-old patient nearly four times his weight and slammed to the concrete floor, she says she was told. By the time his mom saw him, Jacob’s face was covered in bruises.
“They were concerned about bleeds in the brain, facial fractures, skull fractures,” she said.
Jacob was transported from one hospital to another, this time by ambulance. Luckily, tests at DMC Children’s Hospital for concussions and damage to his skull were negative.
News of Jacob’s injury is sad to former Harbor Oaks nurse Itashia Mathis, but it’s not a surprise.
“They were really focused on money and saving money, “ Mathis said. “That makes everyone below suffer.”
“Was management focused on safety?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
Mathis says she frequently saw other staff and sometimes patients suffer abuse at the hands of other dangerous patients. In almost all cases, she said, the abuse was made possible by a lack of staffing, a common complaint told by past and present Harbor Oaks employees.
After repeatedly complaining to management, Mathis quit Harbor Oaks in March.
- Michigan mental hospital nurse pleads for help: 'We can't keep people safe'
- Ex-employees: Metro Detroit psych hospital so understaffed it's dangerous
Last week, management was all smiles as the hospital cut the ribbon on its glimmering new hospital tower, part of the hospital’s expansion first announced in 2017.
“It allows us to help more patients each and every year,” said CEO Briana Jacob.
Mathis wonders how the hospital can expand when, at its current size, it already struggles to keep patients and staff safe.
“How are you going to have another building? You can’t even staff this building,” she said. “To me, in my opinion, it’s just more money for the business.”
Harbor Oaks officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Jacob’s mom says she’s learned her lesson. If her son needs psychiatric help again, they won’t be turning to Harbor Oaks.
“I could have just kept him home, he would have been better than he is now,” she said. “My child could have died. He could have been paralyzed.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.