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Atascadero State Hospital tried to cover up role in patient murder, fired staffer says

Atascadero State Hospital was the site of the 2014 murder of patient Kevin Turner. A lawsuit filed by a former clinical social worker alleges that the hospital dismissed her concerns about patient Adam Cary, who pleaded guilty to killing Turner.
Atascadero State Hospital was the site of the 2014 murder of patient Kevin Turner. A lawsuit filed by a former clinical social worker alleges that the hospital dismissed her concerns about patient Adam Cary, who pleaded guilty to killing Turner. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Atascadero State Hospital is once again the subject of a lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court related to the 2014 murder of patient Kevin Turner.

This time, the plaintiff, April Grundfor, is a former clinical social worker at the hospital who alleges ASH dismissed her concerns about patient Adam Cary — who ultimately pleaded guilty to killing his roommate — and then fired her when she refused to alter her clinical notes to shield the hospital from liability for Turner’s death.

Civil lawsuits represent only one side of the story. The California Department of State Hospitals has not yet responded to the allegations, and department spokesman Ken Paglia said it’s department policy not to comment on pending litigation. However, he confirmed that Grundfor was employed at the hospital for the dates specified in the complaint.

Grundfor’s complaint, filed Monday, details the final hours before Turner’s death on May 28, 2014.

Cary had requested to speak privately with Grundfor, but a hospital staff member warned her “that she could not meet with Cary because it was not safe to be in the same room alone with him,” according to the complaint. For more than two weeks prior to Turner’s death, Cary committed multiple acts of violence against other patients, resulting in special incident reports being written about him.

Grundfor alleges hospital staff knew the risk Cary posed yet they did not place him in restricted holding such as “one-to-one,” which involves direct observation by staff, or “Q-15,” which involves visual checks on the patient every 15 minutes.

Adam Cary
Atascadero State Hospital patient Adam Cary pleaded guilty to murdering fellow patient Kevin Turner in 2014. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office

“Despite knowing the dangers of leaving someone alone with Cary, the hospital and its staff … left Turner in a room alone with Cary,” according to the complaint.

Later that day, Grundfor wrote, she saw a nurse reading a handwritten letter by Cary, “stating that (Cary) wanted to harm a staff member or another patient.”

According to the complaint, when Grundfor informed her supervising doctor about the letter, the doctor responded “with a brief acknowledgment of the problem posed by the recent altering of Cary’s medication regiment and continued reading his book.”

Hours later, the doctor and Grundfor responded to a “red light alarm” that sent them running to the dormitory-style room shared by Cary and Turner.

There, a janitor was restraining Cary while Turner “lay on his bed convulsing and gasping for what appeared to be his dying breaths,” according to the complaint.

Grundfor’s lawsuit contradicts the report given by the state hospital to police and the news media, which claimed Turner’s murder was discovered by the doctor and not a janitor.

“This deception on the part of the defendants was meant to cover up lack of care by (the doctor), to protect ASH from liability, but was illegal, and exposed patients to potential injuries,” the complaint states.

This deception on the part of the defendants was meant to cover up lack of care by (the doctor), to protect ASH from liability, but was illegal, and exposed patients to potential injuries.

Complaint filed by April Grundfor

Grundfor wrote that she told an Atascadero police detective about what happened May 28, 2014, and again disclosed what she saw as the hospital’s deficiencies in an inter-disciplinary note dated June 9, 2014.

For her actions, Grundfor claimed she was moved to a work area without private phone access or adequate computers and printers, and denied access to patient medical records. She wrote that she was instructed by her supervisors not to speak to the families of Turner or Cary.

Grundfor wrote that she was told by supervisors not to finalize her inter-disciplinary note, which contained a detailed account of Cary and the threats he allegedly made. She wrote that she was confronted at one time by several supervisors, who wanted to know whether she made copies of the note she wrote documenting the murder.

The complaint states that on June 6, 2014, Grundfor received a disciplinary referral stating she had difficulty with professional relationships and was placed on an employee action plan. Then, 12 days later, Grundfor received a letter entitled formal written counseling, warning her that failure to comply would result in further disciplinary action.

On June 26, 2014, Grundfor was told she was terminated and escorted from her workplace by two supervisors. According to Grundfor’s complaint, the cause of the termination was her June 9 note detailing the circumstances of Turner’s murder. She further alleges she was told not to apply to any local clinics or hospitals, because “people talk.”

In alleging whistleblower retaliation, Grundfor’s complaint states she was fired for reporting on the hospital “covering up a murder and inadequate staffing and supervision” as well as for her refusal to engage in “alteration of medical charts.”

Grundfor is suing the state hospital for a to-be-determined amount, including lost earnings and back pay; past, present and future medical bills; emotional distress; and the costs of litigation. A hearing for the case is scheduled for Aug. 21.

In April 2015, the family of Turner filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, alleging that staff at ASH knew Cary had been violent and threatening toward other patients.

In January 2016, Cary was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison for first-degree murder.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7929, @andrewsheeler

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