Psychiatric Hospital Kept Mum About Sexual Assault

A psychiatric hospital in the Galilee failed to report a sexual assault that occurred last summer between two patients, a male and a female, Haaretz has learned.

The 73-year-old male attacker was removed from the unisex psychogeriatric department at Mizra Psychiatric Hospital, where the assault had occurred in July. But some months later, the doctor in charge decided to transfer him back and house him with female patients.

The decision to move the attacker, a convicted killer diagnosed with schizophrenia, who was transferred to Mizra in May, prompted one of the institution's senior physicians to complain to management about potential risks. The senior doctor warned that returning the man to the mixed department put female patients in danger of being sexually assaulted.

The attacker, who had been convicted 24 years ago of killing his wife and one of his daughters, was eventually removed and transferred to an all-male ward.

The assault happened at night, when the attacker entered the room of a disabled 60-year-old woman suffering from severe dementia. He reportedly climbed in bed with her and started groping her breasts. Nurses removed the man after the victim yelled for help. The man reportedly told the doctor on duty that he had tried to have sex with the woman.

Sources in the Health Ministry told Haaretz that although Mizra's management had defined the assault as a "severe incident," it was not reported to the ministry, the district psychiatrist or the police. Additionally, the hospital did not report the incident to the victim's family. The woman is now hospitalized elsewhere, at a care facility in the center of the country.

By not reporting the incident, Mizra's management may have violated the ministry's protocol for such incidents. Proper procedures require all hospitals to "report any unusual event that could put patients in danger, and inform police of any case involving a suspected criminal offense."

In the ministry's official reaction, its spokesman said: "We do not view this case lightly, nor does Mizra's management. However, this is not the sort of event that requires hospitals to contact the ministry or the district psychiatrist and inform them about the circumstances of that occurrence."

The ministry went on to explain the hospital is exempt from reporting the incident because it does not involve "significant damage" to the patient or death, "as stipulated in the health ministry's orders to hospitals and medical institutions."

But a Health Ministry official told Haaretz there is no doubt in his mind that both from the moral and legal perspectives, Mizra should have reported the incident. "Mizra's Management had failed to meet the standards for the proper administration of a hospital," the official said.

The ministry learned of the incident only two weeks ago, approximately four months after it happened. The ministry became aware of the assault after the northern district's deputy psychiatrist, Dr. Nabil Gerassi, received the correspondence between Mizra's ward director and one of his senior staff, who warned against returning the attacker to the ward.

The correspondence revealed that the attacker, who after the assault had been transferred to the all-male ward, was transferred back to the unisex department on October 18. Dr. Yuli Wetchkov, head of the psychogeriatric department at Mizra, signed the transfer, based on the request and recommendation of Yulinna Naj, the head of the all-male ward.

The senior physician at Mizra who opposed the transfer, Dr. Michael Segal, then wrote Wetchkov and the institution's management to warn against the move. Upon reading his warning, management instructed Wetchkov to transfer the attacker back to the all-male ward.

Ten days ago, Wetchkov wrote Segal to tell him that the psychogeriatric department's handling of the incident was "professional and appropriate," and that the recommendation that the attacker be transferred back to the unisex ward was "done after much thought," Wetchkov added.

In its official reaction, the Health Ministry told Haaretz: "When the patient was hospitalized, he displayed no signs of violence or abnormal sexual behavior, and there was no reason to refrain from receiving him in the ward. During the two months of his stay before the incident, the man displayed no abnormal behavior.

"The incident itself did not result in sexual intercourse or rape. After the incident, them man was transferred to the all-male ward for two months. He was then put in the psychogeriatric department for a few days, during which he displayed no violent behavior. However, he was then transferred to the all-male department to reevaluate the degree of danger that he might pose to other patients.

"The incident called for an internal inspection, which was carried out and concluded, albeit a few days too late."