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A Deep Breath 

More legal troubles for Eastern State Hospital; plus, a proposed ban on e-cigarettes

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'SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS'

A nurse supervisor allegedly THREATENED AND PHYSICALLY ABUSED patients at Eastern State Hospital and then retaliated against at least two hospital employees when they reported her actions, according to a lawsuit filed in Spokane County Court last week.

Molly Okoli, a supervising nurse at Eastern, and the Department of Social and Health Services, the state's social services department that runs Eastern and Western State Hospitals, are named as defendants in the suit. DSHS spokeswoman Kathy Spears told the Inlander that she cannot comment on pending legal action, but says the abuse of staff and patients is not tolerated and is encouraged to be reported.

"This is another example of patients not being treated the way they should because of systemic problems with appropriate staffing and ways to monitor reports of abuse and neglect," says Andrew Biviano, the attorney bringing the suit. "I don't think this happens to every patient, but any patient is too many."

The complaint details three specific examples of Okoli's alleged abuse and retaliation against employees for reporting it. Those include slapping patients across the face, tackling patients, holding her forearm against a patient's throat "as if trying to choke the patient," and locking an employee in a seclusion room with a patient.

DSHS is facing legal action on at least two other fronts. The first is another civil suit (Biviano is the lawyer for that one, too) that alleges current laws violate patients' constitutional rights to adequate mental health treatment and release. The second is a federal injunction directing DSHS to increase bed capacity and staffing in both hospitals in order to bring patients' wait times into compliance with the state constitution. (MITCH RYALS)

MOVING COMPANY

At Monday's Spokane City Council meeting, Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard expressed concern over plans by the Spokane Police Department to move out of its downtown precinct next to the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza.

Under the current arrangement, downtown businesses pay the rent for the precinct facility through the DSP with the aim of providing a better police presence for the central city. If the police department goes forward with the move, DSP will be ON THE HOOK FOR THE LEASE. Councilwoman Karen Stratton asked how much the rent is. Richard's response: "$2,433 a month, but who's counting?"

"This is a concern to us because that lease is paid for through June of 2016," added Richard, who was giving his quarterly update to the council. "If that space is vacated early, that means the businesses in the downtown core will be paying for a vacant space and that deeply concerns us."

Richard said he was committed to working with the police and the city administration, which didn't respond to a request for comment. (JAKE THOMAS)

CLEARING THE AIR

In an advertisement for Blu E-CIGARETTES, Blade actor Stephen Dorff brags that, with e-cigs, you can smoke "virtually anywhere." But in Spokane County, that might change next year.

Under Washington state's Smoking in Public Places law, the Spokane Regional Health District has the power to include e-cigarettes under the current ban on indoor smoking in public places. Now, the group is considering exercising that power.

A 2012 literature review of research suggested that the health risks of e-cigarette devices was unlikely to approach the cancer-causing dangers of traditional cigarettes, but noted it was far too soon be sure. The variety of devices and liquids placed in devices pose another challenge for determining the dangers of the devices.

"We don't know what is in [e-cigarette] vapor, because just about anything could be put in the vaping devices," says Linda Graham, health policy and communication manager for the Spokane Regional Health District. "The chemicals could be even worse than what has been tested."

First, the SRHD will be reaching out to get feedback from e-cigarette shops about the proposed law. The health district plans to seek a public comment sometime in January, then possibly pass a resolution in February. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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