'Hurtful, Offensive and Heartbreaking': Major Patient Abuse Scandal Hits S.F.'s Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco, where a group of former staff members allegedly abused nearly two dozen patients for years. (Daderot/Wikipedia)

Nearly two dozen patients at Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco were abused for years by a group of staff members, city officials said on Friday.

Following a months-long investigation, the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported that six former employees subjected 23 live-in patients to verbal and physical abuse, including sedating them with non-prescribed medications and engaging in sexualized conversations. The employees also photographed and recorded video of the abusive interactions, and shared them with each other via text message.

The alleged abuse occurred between 2016 and January 2019, and was limited to two wards of the hospital that primarily serve patients with dementia, officials said.

“What has recently come to light is so profoundly hurtful, offensive, and heartbreaking for so many of us who care deeply about this hospital,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement Friday morning.

"This behavior does not belong in our City or anywhere and can never be allowed to happen again. San Francisco is better than this, and significant changes will be made at Laguna Honda Hospital so it can fulfill its mission of caring for those most in need."

Laguna Honda, a public city-run facility, is a live-in hospital, nursing home and rehabilitation center serving nearly 800 patients.

In light of the allegations, DPH said it fired hospital CEO Mivic Hirose as well as its director of quality management and the six employees suspected of abuse. A department official declined to specify when the terminations occurred.

Margaret Rykowski, DPH's chief integrity officer, has since been appointed acting CEO and is leading the recovery process, officials said.

Breed, along with Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Dr. Grant Colfax, the city's recently appointed public health chief, addressed the scandal during a press conference on Friday at City Hall.

"We are here to report something difficult, disturbing and disappointing to the people of San Francisco," said Colfax. "This behavior is not something I will tolerate. As a caregiver, I am outraged and heartbroken that our patients were treated this way. I apologize to them and to their families."

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The allegations first came to light in February as part of an investigation into an unrelated personnel complaint, Colfax said. DPH immediately began an internal investigation and found evidence to substantiate the suspicions, he said. The city attorney was then asked to take over the investigation, and findings were reported to the city's police department and state public health officials.

"We have immediately taken steps to ensure patient wellness and safety," Colfax added.

All affected patients have been fully examined and their decision-makers notified, Colfax said. Hospital staff have also been retrained in prevention and reporting of patient abuse, and the facility has adopted improved drug security, dispensing and testing practices.

"Today we are confident that Laguna Honda continues to be a good place for patients," Colfax said. "Especially in the areas of patient care and safety, we want to ensure it continues moving in the right direction so these circumstances never occur again."

DPH will also conduct a "turnaround plan for Laguna Honda, and submit a plan for moving forward to the mayor and Board of Supervisors within 60 days, Colfax said.

Anyone with concerns about patient care or staff conduct, he added, should contact the confidential DPH compliance hotline: 855-729-6040

KQED's Carla Williams contributed to this story.