THE STARTLING JULY 16 suicide of an armed man whose body went undiscovered for more than 12 hours in a locked Harborview Medical Center staff rest room was not, it turns out, the rarity it seemed. Less than three weeks earlier, a Harborview nurse died in another locked staff rest room. Her body, too, went undiscovered for 12 hours, according to interviews and hospital and police records.
Already upset that an armed intruder entered the hospital undetected, some Harborview workers say they're stunned that two bodies in 18 days could remain undiscovered so long. "This is tragedy upon tragedy," says a co-worker of the nurse. "It makes you question the whole security apparatus here."
The dead nurse, Lori Anne Boyack, 34, had announced she was headed for a work break when she left the trauma intensive care unit sometime after 9 a.m. June 28. Co-workers thought Boyack, a nurse of 14 years, looked tired and frazzled. Besides the stress of trauma nursing, she had just ended a relationship and was selling her home, they say. After leaving her purse in the break area, Boyack locked herself in a West Wing rest room and overdosed on a skeletal muscle-relaxant drug. Her body, in hospital scrubs and a T-shirt, lay there throughout the day despite an intensive search. Staff, security, and Seattle police scoured the Harborview campus and all floors of the massive First Hill facility after her blue Chevy Blazer was found early on, still parked nearby. But no one apparently checked the locked rest room until a cleanup crew called security at 8 p.m.—after trying to enter the room for three hours.
It's not known whether Boyack intentionally or accidentally overdosed on the relaxant, generically called cisatracurium (used mostly to facilitate insertion of tracheal tubes to help patients breathe), or if she took the drug in the prescribed manner, intravenously. None of the hospital, police, or medical-examiner reports mentions a syringe at the death scene. Officials couldn't provide additional details, and they say they don't know where Boyack obtained the drug, although it is used in the ICU. While it appears to have been a suicide, the King County Medical Examiner classifies the nature of her death as undetermined.
On July 16, Stefan Ballard, 33, shot himself around 9 p.m. after somehow gaining entry to a locked East Wing rest room. He lay undiscovered until 9 a.m. the following day. Ballard apparently entered the hospital before the security metal detector was turned on for its nighttime-only duty, and he was able to smuggle in a .357 magnum and 50 rounds of ammunition (see "Crime Magnet," Oct. 2). As in the case of Boyack, a cleanup crew's call to security led to the discovery of Ballard's body.
HARBORVIEW SAYS IT is now drafting a response plan to deal with continually occupied rest rooms, under certain conditions. A code will be announced hospitalwide to alert managers and staff when someone is missing, says hospital spokesperson Tina Mankowski. "We will make sure that whenever someone rattles that bathroom door and no one answers, it will be rattled again until someone does answer," she said.
Mankowski says a number of staffers tried the rest-room door during the time Boyack was missing but apparently didn't realize it had been continuously locked. In the future, she says, during an alert, "if no one responds from within, we would have someone from public safety open that door."
The county hospital, run by the University of Washington, has not, however, changed its policy on using the metal detector only after 8 p.m., so armed visitors still can enter during the day. Expanding the program, which could require extra security and detectors at three other entrances, would inhibit the open access that the public hospital historically has favored, officials say. But some security officers think Ballard's entry should be taken as a warning that times have changed.
Ballard's family says no one should have worried he would harm others. "He was a jewel," says his mother, Deborah. She is a longtime King County employee, and County Executive Ron Sims was among those who attended her son's funeral. Ballard's mother is not sure why he chose the county hospital or why he shot himself. "My son was not looking to kill anyone. He wasn't like that."
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