Oak Harbor woman sues over being strip searched

A proposed class action alleges the Fairfax mental-health hospital may have violated patient rights

By Zachariah Bryan

The Everett Herald

When an Oak Harbor woman was admitted in March 2018 to the Fairfax Behavioral Hospital in Kirkland, she reportedly was told to undress for a mandatory search.

She told staff she had a history of being sexually abused. They reportedly ignored her pleas and told her again to take off her clothes, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Seattle.

The door was left open and other staff members could see inside the room, said court records. A camera was recording the scene. And the woman was not given a gown or towel to cover up.

After she undressed, staff told her to pull down her underwear and bend over for a cavity search, attorneys wrote. She started shaking and crying, then curled up into a ball on the floor.

The lawsuit, submitted by attorneys with the Seattle-based firm Hagens Berman, called the process “humiliating.”

The search was done without any indication that the woman might have weapons or drugs, the attorneys wrote in the complaint, adding it was unlike anything that would happen at any other mental health facility in the state.

After the search, the woman experienced “severe trauma, nightmares, hopelessness and increased urges to harm and kill herself,” the lawsuit states.

After her release, she attempted to take her life.

“Fairfax failed to provide safe, non-abusive treatment with dignity and privacy,” the plaintiff alleged.

Not only could Fairfax’s practices intrude on patient privacy, the lawsuit states, it could violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the state’s Vulnerable Adult Protection Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

Fairfax CEO Rebecca Shauinger said in an email she just learned of the complaint and declined to comment.

In addition to the 157-bed hospital in Kirkland, Fairfax Behavioral Health has two locations in Snohomish County. One is a 30-bed adult psychiatric care unit at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s Pacific campus. The other is a 34-bed senior adult psychiatric unit in Monroe.

The law firm is asking the court to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit. The woman, who is not named, is one of possibly hundreds of people who have been violated at Fairfax facilities, attorneys wrote.

Lawyer Steve Berman said in an email that he is aware of one other person with an experience similar to the woman’s. He expects more to come forward.

The suit calls for compensation for plaintiffs’ suffering as well as permanent changes to Fairfax practices.

“Our class-action lawsuit seeks systemic changes to Fairfax’s protocols that will create safer hospitals for patients needing help,” Berman said in a statement.

Fairfax is unique in its practices, attorneys wrote. They pointed to other hospitals that have layers of oversight to prevent needless invasions of privacy. Video monitoring typically will be restricted.

“No psychiatric hospital in Washington state other than Fairfax permits its staff to arbitrarily conduct strip searches or cavity searches,” the lawsuit states. Moreover, attorneys wrote, no other hospital “makes and keeps video recordings of patients in various states of undress.”

More in News

Volunteer burnout a problem for fire district, according to chief

Availability of firefighters has become a critical need for South Whidbey Fire/EMS… Continue reading

Contest invites kids to get crafty

Kids with a big imagination can now participate in a local art… Continue reading

Oak Harbor staff works to clarify zoning code

Island County Superior Court ruled against Oak Harbor’s low-income housing development for… Continue reading

Sailor follows her father’s path to NAS Whidbey

Past and present collided recently when Naval Linguist Abigail Burns posed in… Continue reading

School board planning equity policy

South Whidbey School Board took its first steps towards evaluating its education… Continue reading

Food program for children expands to week of meals

A South Whidbey food program providing weekend meals for children and their… Continue reading

LIHI appealing court ruling against downtown housing project

The nonprofit organization that attempted to build low-income housing in downtown Oak… Continue reading

Photo provided
                                Staff from Island Drug at Ken’s Korner are being temporarily relocated to the Oak Harbor store while efforts to secure a new South Whidbey location continue. From left to right: Store Manager and Pharmacy Technician Rachel Soto-Paulus, Pharmacy Technician Merissa Dahlman and Pharmacist Rich Russo.
Pharmacy leaving its Ken’s Korner location

After 15 years at Ken’s Korner in Clinton, Island Drug is looking… Continue reading

COVID-19 uptick deemed no cause for alarm

Thirteen additional people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Island County in… Continue reading

Most Read