A federal agency found staff at a Bangor hospital allowed two patients under the age of 18 to be together unsupervised in a common area, during which time they engaged in sexual activity.
The case at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center drew a licensing citation from state regulators for failing to protect patient rights following a review earlier this year, prompting the hospital to make changes around patient supervision policies and monitoring practices.
If left unaddressed and uncorrected, citations can escalate to a hospital losing Medicare and Medicaid funding.
The unsupervised activity took place on Feb. 2, 2022, in the diagnostic evaluation area for adolescents in the hospital’s emergency department. Two unnamed patients, both under the age of 18, were unsupervised for 24 minutes during which they “laid down together under blankets in the common area, and engaged in sexual activities,” according to a report by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Division of Licensing and Certification.
Hospital leadership informed the DHHS Division of Licensing and Certification of the event on Feb. 11, and the state launched an investigation that included “document reviews, observation and interviews.” The review was completed March 3 and found the hospital violated three of its policies.
The violations include the hospital’s parental supervision of pediatric patients policy, which requires a parent or legal guardian to be at a patient’s bedside if they’re under 18 while they’re in the emergency department. If a parent can’t be present, the policy requires another guardian or older adult to be with the patient at all times.
Both patients’ medical records show no indication that parents or guardians were present at the time and no alternative plans for either patient to be supervised were made, according to the report.
Also violated were the hospital’s patient rights policy and its management of behavioral patients in the emergency department policy, both enacted in 2018.
State investigators reviewed security footage from Feb. 2 and found video showing the two patients lying down on the floor next to each other, with pillows and blankets, in the common area of the unit. They were seen kissing and engaging in sexual activity with each other while unsupervised for about 20 minutes.
On Feb. 10, a nurse told the associate vice president that she had received a phone call from the legal representative of one patient to inform her the patient “reported playing ‘touchy feely’” with the other patient, according to the report.
The associate vice president viewed security footage of the event, immediately notified hospital leadership and made sure the patients were separated, the report states.
On Feb. 11, the associate vice president notified the police, Child Protective Services and the legal representatives for the two patients.
Kris Currier, spokesperson for Northern Light Health, declined to comment on specific details of the report but stated the hospital “self-reported this event to Maine DHHS and took immediate action to enhance patient safety in the emergency department.”
“EMMC partnered with DHHS and submitted a plan outlining the actions it took in response to this incident,” Currier said. “DHHS accepted EMMC’s action plan and found the hospital in full compliance with all CMS Hospital Conditions of Participation.”
The hospital’s plan for correcting the deficiencies that enabled the violations to happen includes increasing the supervision of patients in the diagnostic evaluation area, establishing guidelines for patient monitoring and increasing staff presence, among other measures.
“Increased supervision will improve patient safety and assure staff are intervening when needed prior to patients harming themselves or others,” the hospital’s plan, published May 6, states.
The hospital also outlined new behavioral expectations pediatric patients in the diagnostic evaluation area must follow. Those changes, which went into effect in late February, prohibit patients from sharing a bed overnight or socializing in one another’s private patient rooms, according to the hospital’s plan.