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Deadline Looms For St. Elizabeth's

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By Rebcca Sheir

The Districts sole public psychiatric facility has six more months to meet more than 200 requirements from the US Department of Justice. But St. Elizabeth's Hospital is determined to meet that deadline.

Walking amidst the hubbub of St. Elizabeth's Therapeutic Learning Center, you might not suspect that four years ago, deadly violence among patients prompted a Justice Department investigation.

Two years later, a settlement agreement gave the hospital three years to improve patient safety and care. That was 2007: the year Dr. Patrick Canavan stepped in as CEO.

"And I determined that much of what they said was of concern," says Canavan, "and that we should embark on big changes."

Rodney General has worked with patients at St. Elizabeth's for 6 years. He says the hospital has improved its technology and training. When asked where he thinks things could be improved, he responds, "We're moving in that direction."

But a new report from the Justice Department suggests the hospital may not be moving fast enough. The facility doesn't have 24-7 oversight by a registered nurse - and one patient says she raped by four other patients there in July.

But Canavan says the hospital will meet the requirements with a new, patient-centered philosophy.

"...[that]really starts to fundamentally change the way we look at individuals in our care, and recognize them as the center of the universe for what were doing to try to help," he says.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles has praised the efforts to improve care. In June, the Justice Department will decide whether that care has improved enough.

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