Photos show state workers asleep in mental institution - WSMV Channel 4

Photos show state workers asleep in mental institution

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Photographs obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team show workers inside the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, from a security guard to psychiatric techs assigned to watch over patients, asleep in various places in the facility.

The photographs were taken by a former worker, who supplied them to the Channel 4 I-Team to show how common it is for employees to sleep instead of work.

The photographs show eight different employees sleeping, and the state department of mental health confirmed all are former or current state employees or contract employees paid by the state.

One photograph shows a registered nurse so asleep his head is thrown back while at a nurse's station.

Another photograph shows a psychiatric technician asleep at a nurse's station.

"This one here looks like he's really enjoying his nap. At work. That's terrible," said taxpayer Yolanda Stone, who reviewed the photo of the psychiatric technician.

"I wish I could get paid to sleep," said taxpayer Steve Burk, who also reviewed the photos.

"It's lazy. That's all I can say," said taxpayer Kevin Courville.

The Channel 4 I-Team also obtained photographs of housekeepers, who are also paid with taxpayer money, sleeping.

One photograph shows a security guard asleep inside. His personnel record shows in 2007 he was disciplined for sleeping in a van while on duty.

"Anything could be happening. And they're asleep on their job," Stone said.

In addition to the photos, the Channel 4 I-Team obtained disciplinary records through a public request that show the state is well aware of the problem.

The Channel 4 I-Team found employee, after employee, after employee cited for sleeping on the job, most assigned to watch over patients who needed intensive or constant observation.

And none of the people disciplined in those records are the ones captured in the photographs.

Two employees who recently left the institution, Michael Rhodes and Tyler Nelson, agreed to speak independently of each other with the Channel 4 I-Team about what they say these photographs captured.

"It's a culture of irresponsibility and negligence," Nelson said.

"Do you worry about the safety of the patients there right now?" Finley asked.

"Yes," Nelson said.

"Every night I was down there on that unit, I could hear them snoring. You can hear them snoring from way up at the desk," Rhodes said.

Both former employees said there is such a problem with employees sleeping that some have found a place to hide out of range of the cameras that monitor the hallways.

Rhodes even drew for us what a hallway looks like, and the small alcoves where he said employees hide in order to sleep and not get caught by the cameras.

"They get in there and lean against the patient's door, in a chair, and they're out of view of the camera," Rhodes said.

"There are some employees that will find a good hiding spot. They will come into the employee break room and sleep," Nelson said.

After our attempts in February to interview both the CEO of the institute and the commissioner of the state department of mental health for our first investigation into the death of a patient, the Channel 4 I-Team again asked for an interview and were again denied.

Grant Lawrence, spokesman for the department of mental health, did confirm the photographs are of either former or current state employees or contract employees paid by the state.

Lawrence wrote in an email, "MTMHI will take appropriate action to follow up that techs must be alert while on duty."

Lawrence also wrote employees are permitted to "rest" during breaks in the break room.

"It cannot be determined that the employees were sleeping or if they were on duty," Lawrence wrote.

Both Nelson and Rhodes said what concerns them the most is that the majority of the sleeping happens during the overnight hours.

It was during the overnight hours when patient Cody Skelton was left alone long enough to take his own life, an earlier Channel 4 I-Team investigation found.

"A lot of things that are going on, shouldn't be going on," Nelson said.

The Channel 4 I-team attempted to reach out to all of the workers in the photographs for comment.

Two of those pictured are current employees, who denied our request for an interview.

The others either did not want to be interviewed or no longer had listed phone numbers.

Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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