It was about 10 a.m. on an frigid February morning when a distraught teenage boy in a short-sleeved T-shirt and handcuffs appeared on Mark Cashion’s doorstep in northeast Oklahoma City.
“He must have run here full speed — he was jumping up and down, asking me to call his dad,” Cashion said. “He showed me his hands cuffed behind his back and they looked like serious handcuffs, so I told him I had to call 911.”
Cashion lives less than a mile north of Cedar Ridge Residential Treatment Center and Psychiatric Hospital at 6501 NE 50. The neighborhood is a quiet, semi-rural area where many of the residents own large acreages and keep horses.
Both Choctaw and Oklahoma City police, who responded to the call, confirmed Cashion’s story of the runaway, handcuffed boy. Choctaw police had taken the teen to Cedar Ridge for evaluation at the request of his mother when he broke free and bolted to Cashion’s house, Choctaw Police Chief Conny Clay said.
Runaways are a concern
Oklahoma City police have received five reports of runaway patients from Cedar Ridge since August — typically the reports are of patients who just walk off the hospital grounds, said Master Sgt. Gary Knight, a police department spokesman.
Richard D. Scroggins, a horse breeder who owns Moon Land Farm on Air Depot Road just north of the hospital, said he and his wife have had past run-ins with Cedar Ridge patients who have walked away from the hospital campus over the years, including several break-in attempts at their house.
In 2003, Scroggins arrived home from work to find a strange man working in his garden. The man had wandered off the Cedar Ridge hospital grounds and began raking leaves and performing other yard work in the Scroggins’ back yard.
“I walked up to him and began to engage him in conversation, and I could see that he clearly needed help,” Scroggins recalls. “I said, ‘you look like you are really busy.’”
The man was convinced he had been hired to work around the Scroggins’ farm. Scroggins quickly deduced he was a patient from Cedar Ridge and called the police, who came to collect the would-be farmer.
After leaving Moon Land Farm, the man wrote three letters to Scroggins’ wife, addressing her as “Cherry Angel,” a reference to a personalized license plate on her car.
“Dear Cherry Angel,” one hand-written letter begins. “Please come and take me home to Moon Land Farm.”
In a subsequent letter, addressed from Oklahoma City’s Deaconess Hospital, the man asked “Cherry Angel” to take him on as a farmhand.
“Please come to Deaconess Hospital and pick me up to be your worker and stay there ’til the rapture of Believers,” the man wrote. “It’s going to happen this spring.”
Scroggins has submitted the man’s letters to the Oklahoma City Planning Commission in protest to Cedar Ridge’s expansion plans.
‘Not a correctional facility’
In a written response to The Oklahoman’s questions, Cedar Ridge said it is “a mental health hospital based on a medical model, not a correctional facility,” and that it continually reviews its treatment and security procedures to provide the best possible care. The statement said patients seldom leave the hospital without being properly discharged.
The hospital is a nationally accredited facility, it said.
“Cedar Ridge is a hospital and the stigma of mental illness prevents many families and individuals from seeking treatment. The patients treated at our facility and their families are seeking help through admittance to our facility for mental health issues, not due to criminal offenses,” the statement said.
“It is very rare that an individual leaves our facility without being properly discharged. We have specific policies and procedures that are followed in the unusual case that a patient leaves without being properly discharged. If such a situation arises we always contact the appropriate law enforcement and regulatory agencies.”
Neighbors oppose expansion
Residents in the area say they are concerned with what they perceive as a lack of security at Cedar Ridge and say they occasionally see police cars in the neighborhood searching for runaway patients. Oklahoma City records show that although Cedar Ridge has accepted adults for in-patient treatment for the past decade, its special permit with Oklahoma City allows the facility to house only adolescent patients.
The hospital has an application pending with the Oklahoma City Planning Commission to expand and to revise its permit to allow for adult patients. The expansion would include a new 5,000-square-foot building and increase the total number of patients from 116 to 140, according to the application. Some of the residents in the area around Cedar Ridge say they are opposed to the expansion plans.
“Our main concern as a neighborhood is that they can’t seem to keep track of the ones they have,” said Elizabeth Lee Roth, who owns Bridlewood Equestrian Center, just northeast of the hospital on Air Depot Road.
Mayor Dorothy Winston of the neighboring town of Forest Park has submitted a letter of protest to the Oklahoma City Planning Commission asking the city to reject Cedar Ridge’s expansion plans.
In the letter, Winston wrote that Forest Park is about two miles west of Cedar Ridge and the hospital poses a safety hazard to residents. Forest Park is required by a mutual aid agreement to respond to emergency calls to service from the area and the Cedar Ridge expansion would put a strain on Cedar Ridge’s volunteer fire department and small police force, the letter said.
“Forest Park police officers have already had to secure teenage runaways from this facility, wandering in our neighborhood,” Winston wrote. When reached by phone, Winston declined to elaborate on her comments in the letter.
Need for beds
The hospital needs to add 16 beds to respond to a lack of mental health services available to adults in Oklahoma City, Cedar Ridge said in a written response to The Oklahoman.
“The reason for this expansion is due to the overwhelming need for adult mental health beds in the Oklahoma City area and to meet growing demand for mental health services in the state,” Cedar Ridge said in a written response. “Many of the individuals placed with us have been the victims of neglect, physical abuse and other trauma as well as suffer from other types of disorders. Our goal is to provide therapeutic interventions that can assist these individuals in becoming productive members of society and improve their overall health and well-being.”
Cedar Ridge has been owned since 2006 by King of Prussia, Pa.-based Universal Health Services Inc., a Fortune 500 company with more than $7.5 billion in annual revenue.
The hospital has accepted adult and geriatric patients for mental health services under a previous owner since “the early 2000’s,” Cedar Ridge said in its response.
“When Cedar Ridge acquired the facility in 2006 we continued offering these same services in order to ensure uninterrupted treatment to our patients,” the hospital said.
State agency monitors facility
Because it accepts juvenile patients, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services licenses Cedar Ridge and conducts monitoring visits at least three times a year, DHS spokesman Mark Beutler said.
“We investigated complaints with the Cedar Ridge Residential Treatment Center in June 2013, and those complaints generally focused on the physical elements of the center, such as no hot water,” Beutler said. “After our investigation we found those complaints to be unsubstantiated. We take each complaint seriously and are on-site immediately when a problem arises.”
Cedar Ridge’s application to expand and accept adult patients is scheduled to go before the Oklahoma City Planning Commission in April. The hospital said it has plans to meet with neighbors before the hearing to clear up any misunderstandings about the hospital and its mental health services.
“The goal is to educate and clarify any misconceptions prior to this meeting,” Cedar Ridge said in a statement.