Lawsuit claims Oregon State Hospital retaliated against Chris Crawford, killing him

From The Oregonian, January 5, 2016

READ – Crawford v. Oregon Health Authority (PDF)

An $8.8 million lawsuit filed this week accuses the Oregon State Hospital of causing the death of one of its psychiatric patients after it retaliated against him for telling police and reporters about a nurse who had a sexual relationship with another patient.

The lawsuit claims that Christopher Patrick Crawford died as a result of at least eight medications found in his bloodstream on Jan. 3, 2014, and not because of the official cause of death, hypertensive cardiovascular disease.

“Mr. Crawford did not have a history of cardiovascular disease or any other type of serious heart condition,” according to the suit filed Tuesday in Marion County Circuit Court.

The suit contends Crawford, 48, was kept heavily sedated in the roughly three months leading up to his death and faults the hospital for medical negligence.

A spokesperson for the state hospital couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.

Crawford had been a patient at the mental hospital for more than 20 years, after he was found guilty except for insanity in 1993 for a home burglary and sexual assault in Lane County. He was sent to the mental hospital for up to 40 years.

According to the lawsuit, Crawford had bipolar disorder but was a “very high-functioning patient” for nearly all of his time at the hospital. In August 2013, Crawford was living in the least restrictive unit of the hospital — with the greatest freedoms and ability to take part in activities — when he discovered that a nurse, Jennifer Barren, was in a sexual relationship with another patient, the suit states.

“Mr. Crawford reported the relationship to two supervisors at OSH (Oregon State Hospital), who told Mr. Crawford that they were aware of the relationship and that Mr. Crawford should keep the information confidential,” the suit claims. “Mr. Crawford believed that Ms. Barren’s behavior was extremely inappropriate and that OSH was asking him to collude in keeping her conduct confidential.”

Crawford reported the relationship to police and reporters at The Oregonian and The Statesman Journal in Salem, which wrote stories about Barren’s resignation. A state investigation found Barren did have an inappropriate relationship with the patient in a linen closet, where cameras weren’t present.

“After Mr. Crawford’s reports to the media and law enforcement, OSH’s treatment of him changed,” the suit contends. “OSH had recently been the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and many OSH employees were upset that Mr. Crawford’s reports could draw additional scrutiny to the hospital.”

The suit claims that in retaliation, Crawford was moved to one of the most restrictive wards of the hospital and that a regimen of medications that had been working for him was changed in order to keep him in “near-constant sedation.”

That was in October 2013. Three months later, Crawford was found dead in his room.

The suit lists as defendants mental health nurse practitioner Sherie Chaney and the Oregon Health Authority, which is the state agency that manages the hospital.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Crawford’s sister, Lisa Feehely, who is the personal representative of his estate. The Portland law firm of Kell, Alterman and Runstein is representing the estate.