Two mentally ill patients at a locked county hospital ward have become pregnant in the last four months, prompting their attorney to request an investigation into the hospital and its administration.
Attorney H.L. (Roy) Short sent a letter Tuesday to the San Diego County Grand Jury and Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller, complaining that his two clients had been "sexually used and abused" in the mental unit at Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital in Santee.
In an interview, Short said he does not know whether the two women, ages 31 and 28, were impregnated by county staff members or by fellow patients at the 41-bed mental unit, known as the Special Treatment and Rehabilitative program, or STAR.
The older woman was taken to UC San Diego Medical Center for an abortion, Short said, adding that the younger woman remains pregnant and a court has chosen a guardian for the child.
A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said Wednesday that the office had not yet received Short's letter. Grand Jury Foreman Edward B. Meyer could not be reached for comment.
A top county health official reached by The Times on Wednesday said he did not know enough about the cases to comment in any detail.
"We are looking into the allegations," said Paul Simms, director of physical health services for the county. "I don't know whether or not the patients involved were released on weekend passes. I will say that this is the 20th Century and we're not sterilizing the mentally ill."
Simms, who was put in charge of improving Edgemoor last year when it faced expulsion from the federal Medicare program for substandard care, said that although the STAR unit is locked, the doors to patients' individual rooms are left unlocked most of the time. The halls are monitored 24 hours a day, he said.
"From a departmental posture, we do not support sexual activity among patients who are locked in a mental rehabilitative facility," Simms said.
Short said both women have been diagnosed as schizophrenic and have long histories of mental illness. He said the two women, to the best of his knowledge, had not left the locked unit since they were admitted.
"I have two female clients there, and they both end up pregnant," Short said. "Unless someone comes up with a formula that says a pregnancy will help you get well, I think something's wrong out there."
A year ago, Edgemoor was investigated, and the county was fined thousands of dollars by the state for poor care, shoddy maintenance and bad management.
The STAR unit, though a part of Edgemoor, is a distinct program that offers mentally ill patients, many of them in their 20s and 30s, an alternative to state hospitalization for long-term care.