Changes implemented after patient escaped from mental health hospital

Jason Mark Carter (Source: Oconee County Sheriff)
Jason Mark Carter (Source: Oconee County Sheriff)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Big changes at the Department of Mental Health have happened following the escape of a patient in January.

Jason Carter, 39, walked away from a paid work program after he was left unsupervised.

Carter is accused of killing his parents in Seneca in 2006, but was ruled insane, not guilty, and placed in state custody.

Carter was taken into custody in January at a Tennessee hotel, a day after he drove away from the forensic unit at Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia. Neither Columbia police nor the Richland County Sheriff's Department was initially notified. That's where the changes start.

"We've essentially turned that on its head, now all staff that have anything to do with patients whether they're inside the hospital or outside the hospital as soon as they realize a patient is missing, the first call goes to the Office of Public Safety," said Mark Binkley with the Department of Mental Health.

In addition to public safety being the first called, the nurse in charge, and the Chief of Security for GEOCARE should know within 15 minutes of a disappearance.

It was 45 minutes before anyone was alerted in Carter's case.

Public safety will notify outside law enforcement agencies, moving the responsibility away from administrators.

Carter was given a lot of freedom, treated almost like staff and that's also changing.

"There's won't be any more patient work opportunities outside the hospital, but even for those staff who are working in the future with patients in the work program, inside the hospital, they need to know what's this patients background what are some things to watch out for, what are their responsibilities in terms of supervising that individual," Binkley said.

Only staff with clinical experience can be job site supervisors. Work hours have been reduced, just two hours a day, a maximum of 10 hours a week, and job sites are now limited to inside the facility they're assigned and changed every 90 days.

Mental Health's Public Safety Officers will also have their own set of files on every patient in their offices.

"They'll have access to height weight, hair color, a photograph and they'll be able to immediately make notification to local law enforcement and any other law enforcement agencies that need notification," Binkley said.

The patient work program that Carter was a part of remains suspended, pending the approval of these new policies. He's back in the forensic unit in Northeast Columbia.

We also know one employee was disciplined as a result of Carter's escape. That individual still works at the facility however.

WIS is still waiting on SLED's criminal investigation, but it is expected soon.

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