Cover Story: Mental Anguish at Texas West Oaks Hospital

Amanda Lilley was 6 years old when she went to Texas West Oaks Hospital in Houston, broke her arm in her room and although medical personnel knew she’d hurt herself, no one in the private psychiatric facility realized her arm was broken until she was picked up days later by her mom who rushed her to an emergency room.

Alan Chambers was 43 when he successfully hung himself behind closed doors last year at Texas West Oaks Hospital. He’d been brought there after he cut his wrists at his wife’s office, then ran home where he ate every pill in his garage apartment and assembled a pipe gun just as he was interrupted by EMTs. Although he was supposedly under suicide watch, he’d been allowed to stay in his West Oaks room unsupervised after he had a fight with his parents.

Renee was 17 when she was brought to West Oaks from another facility that deemed her too out of control for it to handle. She tried to hang herself with a shoelace and although that one was confiscated, she was allowed to keep the other one in her room.

But it’s not just horrifying anecdotes that justify looking closely at this facility’s operation. It’s also the fact that since March 2007, Texas has fined it $155,000 in total for violations of state regulations regarding the care of mentally ill patients. It was cited for everything from “failure to assure humane treatment of its patients that assures protection from harm” to “failure to monitor patients” to “failure to provide a sanitary environment.”

At the same time, critics – including former employees – say the facility is understaffed, undertrained and overstressed. In this week’s feature “Mental Anguish,” be prepared for some hard times stories and an apparent lack of common sense. – Margaret Downing

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