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Ex-state health facility workers face criminal investigation

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

The Channel 4 I-Team has learned of a criminal investigation into five former state employees accused of abusing patients within a state mental institute.

This is just the latest development in an I-Team investigation over the past 1 1/2 years into the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute. During that time, we've exposed the deaths and abuse of patients, along with photo evidence of employees sleeping on the job.

Now, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation confirms it has launched a criminal investigation into the reported abuse that happened inside MTMHI.

The Channel 4 I-Team has obtained disciplinary actions that show why the employees were fired, employees who had been tasked with caring for some of the most vulnerable patients in state custody.

"If those vulnerable patients are being mistreated by state employees, harmed or injured, we need action," said State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville.

Cameras caught the abuse, according to termination records. Videotape shows patients moved into a seclusion room, where staff allegedly abused them physically and emotionally.

The five former employees are accused of abusing two patients, one of them confirmed by the I-Team to be Matthew McDougal of Brentwood.

The termination records read that in two separate instances, once in April, and another in May, employees inflicted bodily injuries on McDougal and the other patient.

The reported abuse occurred in the forensic services program, where some of the most at-risk patients are located.

"If a patient is abused in that situation, there's a failure of the system," said Jeff Fladen, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

A spokeswoman for the TBI confirms on May 23, some 22 days after the last reported abuse, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health, which oversees the institute, asked the TBI to investigate.

The five employees were then fired the next month.

A spokesman for the Department of Mental Health would not comment because of the ongoing TBI investigation.

The Channel 4 I-Team has also confirmed through public records that two nurses have been terminated as well, for allegedly failing to report the abuse, and creating unsafe conditions for patients.

The TBI investigation comes following an extensive Channel 4 I-Team investigation last year that exposed patients' deaths, mistreatment by staff, a patient escape, a murder within the institute and photos of employees sleeping, instead of caring for patients.

The CEO of the institution resigned in October 2012, and Rep. Odom, who sits on the House health committee, said he fears there could be an ongoing problem at MTMHI.

McDougal's family did not want to comment for this story, but they did confirm his injuries were extensive.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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