N.C. Patient Dies While Staff Plays Cards

Cherry Hospital
Dept of Health & Human Services
Investigators say a North Carolina mental patient died after nurses at a state mental hospital left him in a chair for 22 hours and failed to feed him or help him to the bathroom, a newspaper reported Tuesday.

Security video showed Steven H. Sabock, 50, as he died in April after he choked on medication at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro and a nurse stood nearby without helping, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.

The newspaper said the death was one reason federal officials said they might cut off funds for the facility. Hospital officials have about two weeks to develop an improvement plan and try to persuade federal officials to continue providing funds.

Video showed hospital staff watching television and playing cards while Sabock was in the same room. One technician hugged and kissed another staff member and appeared to be dancing.

Investigators said in a report released Monday that Sabock, who had lived in Roanoke Rapids, sat in a busy day room during four work shifts.

When technicians couldn't get him to walk to his bed, the video showed that they stood him and slid a chair under him before sliding him down the hall to his room. A few minutes later, the video showed a cart of emergency equipment being pushed down the hall.

Sabock, who used to live in Roanoke Rapids in northeastern North Carolina, ate nothing the day he died, and very little during the three days prior, according to The News & Observer in North Carolina.

Investigators found no evidence that "the nursing staff had evaluated the patient's nutrition. The review revealed no nutritional consult was requested and revealed no evidence the physician was notified about the inadequate nutritional intake," according to the investigators' report.

Sabock's father told the newspaper he wasn't allowed to see his son after he was admitted to Cherry Hospital.

"They said he was lying down and didn't feel like talking," said Nicholas Sabock, who lives in Virginia. "They wouldn't let me see him. I think he died that day."

Susan Sabock, the patient's wife, said the state sent her a letter saying there was negligence in her husband's care.

Cherry Hospital director Jack St. Clair couldn't be reached, the newspaper said.

But a state institutional administrator said last week the hospital knew about the problem before investigators arrived and was already working to correct it. Jim Osberg said he didn't know details of the hospital's response.

Federal investigators said the hospital's own investigation showed some information in Sabock's record was falsified.

Besides Sabock's case, investigators said the hospital didn't respond properly to a teenager with developmental disabilities who was punched by a doctor after he bit the physician.