Escape leads to work program suspension, policy reviews at psychiatric hospital

cwinston@thestate.comJanuary 4, 2014 

— Changes could be on the way at the state’s mental health department after this week’s escape of a patient from a Columbia psychiatric hospital.

Jason Mark Carter, a mental health patient following the 2006 shooting of his mother and stepfather, escaped Thursday from the 370-bed G. Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital off Farrow Road. He was captured less than 24 hours later without incident in central Tennessee.

But the circumstances of Carter’s escape – and the delay in public notification – are leading to a review of multiple policies and procedures at the hospital and state Department of Mental Health, officials said on Saturday.

The patient work program at the hospital, which Carter was participating in when he escaped, has been suspended pending further review of the policy, said Mark Binkley, deputy director for administration at the mental health department. An agency directive said the program allows patients to receive pay for jobs following special training and approval of treatment team.

Patients involved in the program are supposed to be supervised — within sight — of a staff member at all times. This “apparently” was not the case when Carter was working in a supply building on Thursday, Binkley said Saturday, but the investigation is not completed.

When Carter was found at a hotel in Tennessee, he had purchased a new car and a cellphone. The white state van that disappeared at the same time as Carter has not been located. It is unclear how Carter obtained the funds to make the purchases. Tracy LaPointe, DMH spokeswoman, said the patients rarely receive more than minimum wage for the work.

Also under review are the policy and procedures for missing patients, Binkley said, including the public notification aspects.

Officials have said Carter was discovered missing before noon on Thursday. According to a DMH directive, 30 minutes must pass between a patient’s disappearance and further notification. It was not until 1:20 p.m. that an alert was issued to law enforcement agencies.

The directive also says that the DMH communications office “may release information if considered necessary in the interest of public or patient safety.” The department never informed the public or the media, however. Instead, the public was alerted by the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department after 3 p.m. The DMH communications office did not provide information to the public or media until requested.

“The internal investigation into the circumstances of the patient’s elopement are continuing,” Binkley said in an email on Saturday morning. “The Department is continuing to receive ongoing assistance from SLED in the investigation of the patient’s movements/activities upon leaving the hospital grounds.”

Carter remains in jail in Tennessee. Binkley said the department and the State Law Enforcement Division hope that he will waive extradition and be transported back to the Columbia psychiatric hospital next week. If Carter does not waive extradition, South Carolina will have to initiate proceedings. He currently has a Tennessee court date scheduled for mid-January on larceny and fugitive from justice charges.

SLED spokesman Thom Berry referred all questions about Carter and the investigation to mental health department officials.

Carter was charged with two counts of murder in the March 2006 deaths of his mother, 52-year-old Debra Perkins, and stepfather, 57-year-old Kevin Perkins. Authorities said the couple was found wrapped in plastic in the basement of their home near Lake Hartwell in Seneca. Carter was found in a room with the decomposing bodies.

He was found competent to stand trial in January 2009, but a judge in October 2009 found him not guilty by reason of insanity and committed him to a state mental hospital.

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