When someone is having thoughts of suicide, a psychiatric hospital should be a place where they are kept safe: it is the reason for they exist. Psychiatric hospitals must ensure their facilities provide no opportunity for patients to cause themselves harm when they are at risk of suicide. How can it be any other way? When a hospital fails in this duty and patients suffer an experienced suicide attorney can help families to pursue legal action to recover compensation for losses the facility’s carelessness causes. A patient has a right to safety; the patient’s family has a right to know their loved one is safe.
Besides civil action, regulators can, and should, also take action against hospitals that fail their patients. It is their job to protect us. When hospitals and regulators fail to protect us, it is the duty of juries to protect us—to make our communities safe.
Facilities providing mental healthcare are often state funded or receive federal funds through Medicaid and Medicare. States can threaten their funding, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services can determine a facility should no longer continue to receive payments if it cannot provide safe patient care. Losing funding can have a major impact on whether the facility can continue operating.
Psychiatric Hospital Faces Loss of Funding
One facility at risk of losing its funding is Timberlawn Mental Health System, which is in Dallas. Officials at the facility were warned doorknobs in patient’s room might be used to hang themselves. Despite the serious danger the door knobs presented, they were not replaced until February 19. This was two days after the first of safety inspections that occurred unannounced.
The door knobs were not the only problem. Inspections conducted by U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uncovered “numerous safety problems,” according to the Dallas News.
On February 17 of last year, federal inspectors indicated there were shortcomings at the facility that left patients at Timberlawn in “immediate jeopardy.” This included things like having plastic liners in garbage cans, and telephone and electrical cords that presented a risk to psychiatric patients. Immediate jeopardy is the most serious warning CMS issues.
While the facility submitted a plan in March to remedy the issues, the changes the hospital indicated it would make came too late for one patient. A 37-year-old who had checked herself into the facility when struggling with a dissociative disorder had died by suicide in December. Her death took place a full five months after the initial warnings about the doorknobs were issued to the facility.
Suicide attorney Skip Simpson from the Law Offices of Skip Simpson is representing the family and called failing to change the doorknobs “completely reckless.” The Dallas Morning News quoted Simpson: “This hospital needs to go ahead and put a sign up in front of their building that says ‘Not safe for suicidal patients.”
The hospital’s reckless behavior has had a real cost. While it may make changes now, they are being forced to do so due to the threat of lost funding, those changes should have been made early so the facility could have better fulfilled its basic obligation to keep patients safe.
It should not have taken a threat to close the facility for this hospital to provide a safe environment of care: a culture of safety. Plenty of patient safety rules, for many, many years, have required psychiatric facilities to be safe. The Joint Commission requires patient safety. Doesn’t it just make sense? Texans like rules. They teach their children rules. They teach their children when rules are broken there are consequences.
Sadly a family with their daughter in this facility suffered the biggest consequence. Now Timberlawn will pay the consequences. It is just what happens in Texas. We like rules and folks playing by the rules; nothing new all over America.
Another thing we teach our children: “when you break a rule and it hurts someone or property: you make it right.” My mom said “Skip, you broke the window—admit it and pay for it.” It is just what good citizens do; yes, corporate citizens too. It is just the simple truth.