Federal officials order Oregon State Hospital to make ‘immediate’ changes following escape

Two weeks after an “extremely dangerous” man facing felony charges escaped from the Oregon State Hospital in a state-owned van, federal health authorities ordered immediate changes to ensure the secure transport of patients, especially those involved in the criminal justice system.

Late Friday, the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the hospital, issued a brief news release saying an inspector for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had visited the hospital and found “immediate jeopardy” conditions related to the transport of patients. The finding means that the hospital’s transport system poses a threat of injury or harm to patients or others that could even result in death.

Federal officials often give facilities weeks to correct problems but in a case like this one involving the escape of a man facing attempted murder, robbery and assault charges, federal officials demanded a fix within 23 days. If the hospital fails to comply, it will no longer be eligible for reimbursement for the care of Medicaid and Medicare patients.

“We appreciate the findings the investigator provided us this afternoon,” the hospital’s superintendent, Dolly Matteucci, said in the release Friday. “We are taking steps right away to reduce the possibility that an unauthorized leave could occur during transport and potentially put themselves, staff or members of the community at risk.”

This the second time in two years that the hospital has been threatened by federal authorities with decertification. In May, 2022, inspectors found a slew of problems at the hospital’s Junction City campus, according to The Lund Report.

The health authority declined late Friday to release many details. Robb Cowie, the health authority’s communications director, told the Capital Chronicle that the inspector found “deficiencies” at Oregon State Hospital but did not say what they were or how they would be fixed.

“The surveyor arrived on site Tuesday to conduct a CMS certification review following a recent incident that involved secure medical transportation,” Cowie said in an email. “These deficiencies involved physical alterations to vehicles used for secure medical transportation. For security reasons, we are not providing additional details, until these issues are addressed.”

He said the health authority cannot release the inspector’s report without federal approval and that it would be posted by the federal agency in five days.

 Christopher Pray (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

He declined to confirm the patient’s name involved in the “incident,” citing federal privacy regulations, but the inspector’s visit came 12 days after 39-year-old Christopher Pray stole a state van hours after being admitted to the hospital for treatment. He’s an “aid-and-assist patient” who needs to be treated to stand trial.

After admission, Pray got into a fight with another patient and was transported to an outside emergency room for medical care. A hospital employee brought him back to the Oregon State Hospital and made his getaway. 

The Oregon Health Authority did not release details about the escape but a document filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court by the county’s senior deputy district attorney said the “employee parked the van at an entrance to assist the defendant re-enter the Oregon State Hospital, and once the vehicle was stopped, and the employee got out of the vehicle, the defendant jumped in the driver’s seat and drove off.”

Oregon State Police said Pray was “fully restrained” with leg shackles, a belly chain, handcuffs and a device connecting the three means of restraint. State police waited three hours before alerting the public after being contacted by the Capital Chronicle about the escape.

Pray was fished out of a muddy pond in north Portland 36 hours after his escape by a rescue crew and returned to the Salem hospital.

The hospital has the capacity to treat 700 patients, and its satellite facility in Junction City can treat about 175. A majority of the patients in the hospital are aid-and-assist cases who are treated according to a court-determined timeline of 90 days to a year, depending on the severity of the charges. 

Pray, a convicted felon facing seven felony charges dating to 2022, could spend a year at the state hospital.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.