Nebraska’s mental hospital ignored rules, compromised safety, psychiatrist says in lawsuit

LINCOLN — A Lincoln Regional Center psychiatrist is claiming that violations of state rules and regulations affected the care of patients at the state mental hospital.

Dr. Farid Karimi made the allegations in a federal lawsuit filed against the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, which operates the regional center, and two former regional center employees.

In the suit, Karimi alleges that he reported the violations to Stacey Werth-Sweeney, who had served as chief operating officer of the regional center, and Dr. Roger Donovick, who was the center’s psychiatric director, but neither addressed his concerns.

Instead, he claims that the two retaliated by making false accusations against him, telling others that he was emotional and unprofessional, negating his orders and leaving him out of committee meetings and mass emails.

Julie Naughton, an HHS spokeswoman, offered no comment on the allegations. She said the agency could not comment on pending litigation.

Karimi has worked at the regional center since February 2016. The center treats patients with severe mental illnesses, as well as sex offenders with mental disorders. Patients may be sent to the center by court order or by local mental health boards.

The lawsuit alleges numerous procedural and medical irregularities at the regional center. Among them:

» Defendants changed doctors’ orders for patients, such as removing patients from suicide watch or discharging them from the facility.

» Defendants have been following outdated federal policies.

» Defendants housed patients with mental disabilities together with dangerous mentally ill patients.

» Defendants failed to use passive restraints on patients who needed to be on highly restrictive status, resulting in repeated assaults on and injuries to staff.

» Defendants denied visitation rights to some patients, even when the patients posed no safety threat.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and the removal of all disciplinary actions from Karimi’s personnel file and his medical licensing file.

Werth-Sweeney said Monday that she expects “the evidence to disclose serious, persistent problems with Dr. Karimi’s practice, including his attendance at work and patient records.”

She said she was confident that he would not be able to show recurring violations of state rules or any retaliation. Werth-Sweeney said she did attempt to fire Karimi for what she alleged to be his “practice deficiencies.”

Werth-Sweeney’s employment at the regional center ended June 12. She said she was terminated and that HHS officials told her that they wanted to move in a different direction.

Donovick left the center in August 2017.

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