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Deaths at rehab hospital in Pasadena draw scrutiny

* Las Encinas, where 'Loveline' doctor has a key role, is faulted by the state in two fatal overdoses in April.

August 21, 2008|By Rong-Gong Lin II and Andrew Blankstein | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Three adult patients died unexpectedly and a teenage patient was raped after entering a Pasadena psychiatric hospital known for its association with celebrity physician Drew Pinsky, records show.

The incidents occurred in the last five months at Aurora Las Encinas Hospital, which advertises itself as a "world-renowned" haven where patients with acute mental illness and substance abuse problems can recover in safety and comfort. It is a favored destination for rock musicians and actors, among others.

Pinsky, who co-hosts the syndicated radio show "Loveline" and anchors the VH1 reality TV series "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew," is co-medical director of the chemical dependency department and is prominently featured on the hospital's website. He has said he played no direct role in any of the patients' care.

Experts say it is rare to see so many patients at a psychiatric hospital die or be harmed in such a short period. State health inspectors have investigated and faulted the hospital's care in the first two deaths, which occurred within two days in April.

The patients, who were being treated for drug abuse in the chemical dependency unit, both died of apparent drug overdoses, according to coroner's records and the report by inspectors for the state Department of Public Health.

This month, a patient in the NASH House, which treats substance abusers on the hospital grounds, hanged himself from a wooden beam, the Los Angeles County coroner found.

One day after his body was found , a 14-year-old girl was raped by a 16-year-old patient as hospital staffers and the suspect's probation officer slept nearby, according to two sources familiar with the matter. "Not a very good track record, especially at an expensive hospital like that," said Taras Otus, the brother of Timur Otus, the 43-year-old bipolar patient who hanged himself. "I don't understand what's going on there exactly."

The hospital declined to comment on the incidents, citing patient confidentiality.

Pinsky issued a written statement: "I had no direct knowledge and no direct participation in the recent care of the patients in question. Patient confidentiality laws prevent me from discussing these or any other patients who may have been admitted to the facility."

Run by Aurora Behavioral Health Care, the hospital advertises on its website such amenities as a tennis court, swimming pool and manicured garden. Shared rooms cost $840 a night, while private rooms are $1,400 a night. It recently created a deluxe treatment center, offering concierge service, a "personal healthcare attendant" and access to a flat-screen high-definition TV.

In January, the cable network VH1 began airing the first season of a reality show featuring Pinsky and two other Las Encinas employees, which is filmed at Pasadena Recovery Center not far from the hospital.

According to the VH1 website, the show "chronicles the dramatic, unscripted real life experiences of a group of celebrities as they make the life-changing decision to enter a treatment program."

Las Encinas' recent troubles began when Jeffrey Hearn, 28, who was admitted for drug addiction in March, was found unresponsive after 7 a.m. April 11, records show. He was transferred to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, where he died a day later, according to the coroner's office.

The state investigation, quoting police and hospital staff, found that another patient had "somehow supplied or facilitated contraband prescription medications, Soma and Norco . . . resulting in a medication overdose."

The alleged supplier of the painkillers was a former pharmaceutical representative who knew how to obtain medications, according to the state report.

The day after Hearn died, 23-year-old Alex Clyburn, was admitted to Las Encinas for drug addiction. Clyburn, who was a student at Cal State Northridge, had taken a large dose of OxyContin, a painkiller, and Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, just before his family brought him in, according to the state and coroner's reports.

The hospital gave him several medications, including those intended to relax muscles, relieve pain, decrease heart rate and lower anxiety, the coroner's office wrote.

Clyburn's mother, Arline, a nurse, was concerned about the mix of prescriptions because of the possibility it would cause respiratory distress, said Sean Burke, a lawyer for Clyburn's parents.

A hospital nurse assured his mother that "they would check on Alex through the course of the night," Burke said. A mental health worker was ordered to check on him every 15 minutes, the state report said.

According to the coroner's report, Clyburn appeared "heavily intoxicated" to other patients and they observed him "staggering to his room."

The next morning, April 14, Clyburn was found dead.. According to the coroner's report, his body was lying face up on a hardwood floor, with vomit trailing from his mouth.

The coroner's report said his death was caused by an overdose of multiple drugs.

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