State Senator Nancy Barto Calls for Arizona State Hospital Overhaul Following Patient Attack on Nurses

Arizona State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) called for an overhaul in the Arizona State Hospital (ASH), a psychiatric care facility, to better protect nurses and patients and create stronger accountability.

“While the Arizona Department of Health Services [AZDHS] claims this incident was a rare occurrence, I’ve been contacted over the years by numerous courageous whistleblowers from within the system that have provided disturbing testimony on the many dangerous incidents, injuries, patient conditions and the lack of staffing that has led to what I see as a collapse of operations at the Arizona State Hospital,” said Barto.

The incident which spurred Barto’s comment occurred Monday when forensic patients at the ASH prevented staff from leaving the facility. Initial reports alleged that three patients assaulted staff and held them hostage before barricading themselves in their treatment unit and damaging pieces of medical equipment to use as weapons. Police arrived on the scene and took the men into custody. Some staff received minor injuries.

However, the Phoenix Police Department told The Arizona Sun Times in an email that after further investigating, officials determined that one of the three was not an active participant in the incident. The two suspects booked in this incident include Nathanial William Moors, 24, and David James McCarthy, 35. No other information was available at this time.

The AZDHS currently oversees the ASH, and Barto has attempted to change this. In the last legislative session, she introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1716, which would have established a state hospital governing board consisting of five governor-appointed bipartisan members with healthcare administration experience. This board would replace the AZDHS as the overseer of the ASH and would work to provide leadership and improvements to the facility. However, this bill failed to pass in the last session.

Yet, following this newest incident, Barto pledged to reintroduce a similar bill next session to ensure ASH runs with safety and quality assurance.

“We need independent oversight to hold those accountable for these devastating conditions, to revamp ASH so that some of our state’s most vulnerable are getting proper care, and to provide adequate support for the staff charged with caring for these individuals,” Barto said. “Clearly more needs to be done to protect those who are suffering from mental illnesses and those who are providing care to these individuals. I will continue to advocate for this worthwhile change.”

12 News reported that two patients died by suicide in late 2021. One of the patients, Mark Chavez, was a Navy veteran who reportedly struggled with mental illness his entire life. Chavez spent 10 years of his life living in ASH and attempted suicide three times in one day before using food to choke himself to death. An anonymous employee within ASH told 12 News that morale was extremely low in the facility. The employee also said the hospital is highly understaffed, making it difficult to care for the patients and protect them from each other or themselves.

The other patient who died, Philip Ronan, 62, left an art class to use the restroom. Unannounced to staff members, he snuck a pair of scissors with him and used them to cut his own neck. The Daily Independent reported that staff members did not find him until it was too late. John Mozell, an attorney who represents people in the mental health system, said this death “speaks to the lack of oversight” at the facility.

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Neil Jones is a reporter for The Arizona Sun Times and The Star News Network. Follow Neil on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Nancy Barto” by Sen. Nancy Barto.


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