Abuse Reports Spur Questioning of Texas' Hospital System

The revelation last year that the Texas state hospital system employed three doctors with a documented history of inappropriate behavior has lawmakers again investigating alleged abuse within the much-maligned system.

State hospital system administrators came to the Capitol on Tuesday with a list of steps they took after reports of abuse surfaced — specifically, what was being done to prevent abuse in the future.

"Staff will only provide individual treatment services that allow for direct observation by other staff," said Mike Maples, the state's assistant commissioner for mental health and substance abuse services. "If you have to leave the door open, you have to leave the door open. If you have to meet with patients out on a park bench, out in a common area, that's what we're asking them to do."

Maples said there would be no unplanned individual therapy conducted outside regularly scheduled times unless two additional staff members are present and the door to the room is unlocked. The state is also installing windows throughout its facilities so regularly scheduled meetings can be monitored.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

The Austin doctor accused of sexual abuse, Charles Fischer, had a history of inappropriate behavior. And it was discovered that three other staff members had similar histories.

David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, told lawmakers they would continue to seek the best way to deal with those allegations.

"Allegations occur in the hospitals all the time, but they had all been unconfirmed or dismissed," Lakey said. "But it brings up the issue of look for patterns, and that is one of the issues that we are looking at."

As State Health Services works internally to fix the problem, lawmakers will begin drafting their own solutions for the 2013 legislative session.

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