Archive for the ‘suicide lawyer’ Category

Springtime Suicide

The winter blues are a false advertisement when it comes to suicide statistics

Texas suicide lawyerFor as long as we can remember, wintertime has been pictured as the bleakest season. Indeed, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is often triggered by the dark and cold times. However, the popular myth that suicides are worst around the holiday season simply is not true. Seasonal landscapes don’t always line up with emotional ones. Time moves slower in spring and summer, and those plagued by mental illness may experience a type of melancholy that goes beyond simple summer nostalgia. Mental illnesses are real, and they can end lives. Without proper medical, therapeutic and interpersonal monitoring, patients are at risk of dying by suicide.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is dedicated to finding justice for the victims of suicide and the families left behind by their tragedy. We have years of experience holding negligible parties accountable for their actions that, if prevented, could have kept a mother, father, brother, daughter or son alive.  Families and loved ones should not have to worry about whether those they care about will survive the spring.

Seasonal change and mood disorders

Studies dating as far back as the 1800s show that suicides peak in the spring, and are actually lowest during the wintertime. This has puzzled scientists for decades. Most people will experience springtime highs and wintertime lows, but when the angle is taken from one of mental illness, everything is in hyperfocus. Springtime highs can mean manic or psychotic episodes, followed by earth-shattering bouts of depression.

People with mood disorders such as major depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorder are at extreme risk for triggers during the warmer months. Bipolar people, in particular, are more prone to mania (and its lesser form, hypomania) – an extreme, destructive elevated mood state that brings with it unhealthy behaviors and even possible psychosis. These states can even require hospitalization due to how disconnected the sufferer is from reality.

Delusions of grandeur may impair proper thinking, causing people with bipolar disorder to make rash and possibly life-threatening decisions like walking into traffic or jumping from heights, believing themselves invincible. Behaviors associated with hypomania and mania can include:

  • Spending too much money, extreme amounts in the case of true mania
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky behaviors, such as careless driving, sexual activity or fighting
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions of grandeur – believing themselves to be infallible
  • Aggression and agitation
  • Short-term memory loss

A study showed that people with a history of prior hospitalization were at higher risk for suicide attempts and death by suicide, which is associated with bipolar disorder and major depression.

Springtime is a time for close monitoring

Improper suicide watch is a leading cause of death within inpatient facilities, and a lack of education among staff only adds fuel to the fire. Some patients at risk of suicide are only monitored every 15 minutes. This simply is not enough. Roughly 6 times a day, in “secure” inpatient units, suicide occurs under the watch of medical professionals. Already at high risk due to seasonal changes, those with mood disorders and other forms of mental illness deserve better.

Outside of facilities, the headlines’ detailed suicides occurred in the spring, especially those of celebrities. Chris Cornell of the band Soundgarden was found deceased in his hotel room following a concert. While the loss devastated fans, it brought true attention to the issue: suicide in the springtime is too common to ignore. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that the risk of suicide increased with the number of daylight hours.

Those who were too physically depressed in the wintertime could feel energized by the increased sunlight, giving them the motivation to attempt suicide. Without proper monitoring by their care team and loved ones, these attempts could turn fatal. Healthcare providers should be at attention when the spring season comes about, and medication may have to be tweaked to accommodate a mentally ill person’s needs.

We can help

There were 44,965 suicides in 2016 in the United States; approximately one third of those suicides occurred while folks were in health care.  Improper and negligent behavior in monitoring or treating those with mental illnesses can lead to death by suicide. Every small change we go through – such as a seasonal change – is magnified for someone suffering, and must be addressed.

Every day, the families and loved ones of victims of suicide speak out to obtain justice. We help them. If you or someone you know has lost a loved one to suicide, contact us today.

Too Little, Too Late

Patients at risk for suicide after hospitalization

Texas suicide lawyerInpatient psychiatric care treats and rehabilitates patients so they can return to life and live it fully, without the burden that mental illness imposed upon them. Mental health issues can be suffocating to those who suffer from them, preventing them from engaging in the day-to-day activities most of us take for granted. While outpatient therapy, medication and a strong support system have proven to be beneficial for those with mental illness, additional steps to ensure their wellness sometimes must be taken.

Psychiatric hospitalization is a double-edged sword. Reputable providers and facilities are often successful in stabilizing a patient’s mental state and illness. But diseases run deep, and not all hospitals are created equal. Patients in such delicate conditions must be kept for the right amount of time, in the right care, not left to make it on their own afterwards. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson knows all too well what the consequences can be after hospitalization under poor care. And we demand justice for those affected by death caused by suicide where negligent health care can be proven.

When is it safe to go home?

Getting people with mental illnesses to a hospital is hard enough . We hug and kiss goodbye. We hope and pray that our loved ones learn strategies for dealing with life and can sleep through the night in the care of skilled medical providers. Psychiatric hospital stays can range from five to seven days, the average time most people stay.

Shorter inpatient stays seemed to carry the greatest risk for suicide attempts post-discharge. Fifty years of data synthesized in JAMA Psychiatry noted that the suicide rate of patients in the first three months post-discharge was 100 times the global suicide rate of 11.4 per 100,000 patients per year in 2012. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors also were reported 200 times the global rate. Years later, the suicide rate in the United States continues to increase, especially among the young population and marginalized communities.  But what factors lead to this startling figure? Declining numbers of beds, funding for psychiatric treatment and access to affordable follow-up treatment (including at-home care) have dwindled. A number of patients tend to be homeless, with little to return to and no supportive care.

Mark Olfson, M.D., M.P.H, wrote in an accompanying editorial that “transitions from inpatient to outpatient care are often poorly managed,” and there is resounding truth in this statement. The strict routines and constant access to therapy and medical treatment are easily disrupted after patients are discharged. Other findings from this study include:

  • -The 90-day rate of suicide was twice as high for men as for women
  • -Psychiatric patients who received no outpatient care six months prior to hospitalization were at increased risk for short-term suicide
  • -Efforts aimed at suicide prevention were lacking

Information from patients with mental disorders with a high rate of suicide as their cause of death such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depressive disorder were included in the study, which left us all asking the question: “what can we do”?

Stigma is society’s illness, and we aren’t treating it

In 2016, there were 44,936 recorded suicides. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are 123 suicides per day. And for every death by suicide, 25 people attempted suicide. Where is short-term psychiatric stay in this sea of numbers?

The practice itself has negative associations, and some who are admitted have little choice or autonomy in their own healthcare. “Instead of being understood as a valid medical procedure, taking someone to a hospital because of disorders of the mind might sound to the patient as a defeat, a failure…and thus, returning to the community after a psychiatric admission can become a difficult task…” Noted one study from Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

Transitioning from a hospital setting to one outside the hospital may make the patient feel “burdened” by the weight of their own disorder, seen by society and rejected as a failure. Most psychiatric disorders are chronic, the study emphasizes, and hospitalization simply cannot cure them. A database from the Oxford Regional Health Authority area in Oxford, England found that 14,240 patients over the age of 15 had 26,864 psychiatric admissions. Out of these patients, 134 died by suicide within the year after they were discharged.

Where is our healthcare system failing our mentally ill patients? One commonly cited issue involved a “revolving door” of patients: those readmitted to psychiatric facilities within a year after their discharge date, often not by their free will. Giving a mentally ill person the control and autonomy they need to manage their condition is essential to their health, and their life. They simply cannot be fed medication and forced to sit down in groups. The personhood of each individual must be acknowledged. But, in a healthcare system where the number of beds is rapidly dwindling and compassionate staff are stretched thin, more work must be done to insure the health and well-being of patients.

Mentally ill patients need support

An involved, caring team of providers is essential to the treatment and rehabilitation of a psychiatric patient, and the quality of life for a person suffering from mental illness. Upon discharge, there often is little follow-up involved to guarantee the survival of a patient. Unlike other illnesses, psychiatric disorders are often swept under the rug; hospitalization is a taboo, and family and friends may respond to cries for help with “get over it, it’s all in your head.”

These hurtful messages often echo a cruel, inhumane portrayal of the mentally ill in society. They also often undo whatever progress was made within the hospital. Society must understand that the brain is a living, complex organ that can become ill and requires treatment.

Dissolving family structures were attributed to frequent hospitalization in the Olfson study, and among those patients with schizophrenia, medication noncompliance was a serious issue. Why aren’t there more doctors, therapists and live-in nurses who can catch the suffering when they fall?

The meta-analysis of 50 years of data mentioned, conducted by Daniel Thomas Chung, of University of New South Wales in Australia, and colleagues, found that prevention efforts were lacking in hospital care. “Discharged patients have suicide rates many times that in the general community. Efforts aimed at suicide prevention should start while patients are in the hospital, and the period shortly after discharge should be a time of increased clinical focus,” he observed.

The first three months after discharge proved to be the most vulnerable. What can be done to help a person suffering from mental illness stay on track? Recommendations include:

  • -Access to affordable mental healthcare
  • -Supportive loved ones who can aid in home wellness checks if they live alone
  • -An understanding society that normalizes mental health treatment
  • -Regular check ins with therapists and psychiatrists to ensure treatment is continuing
  • -Step-down programs, such as inpatient to intensive outpatient before full discharge
  • -Live-in nurses
  • -Compassionate, attentive hospital care

Justice must be found

Within those first three months to a year after discharge, too many lives are lost. Too many families and friends wake up to find their loved one is no longer with them, and it could have been avoided. Suicide is not a random act. It causes death from an illness that doctors and other medical professionals failed to treat appropriately and monitor after attempts at treatment. Understaffed, overworked hospital employees are constantly changing sheets on too few hospital beds. Medication prices are too high for too little effect. Health insurance often runs out before hospital stays are completed. Families and employers would rather see the mentally ill simply snapping back to “normal” instead of treating them with the compassion and care they deserve.

Too many parties fail to ensure the health and survival of the mentally ill. When death by suicide occurs after short-term psychiatric hospitalization, negligent parties must be held accountable for their actions or inaction.

Contact us for a free consultation if your loved ones have found yourselves searching for answers and justice.

David’s Law: Fighting Back Against Cyberbullying Suicides

When we send our children off to school in September, we don’t expect every day of this new year to end perfectly. We expect them to sigh and grumble about a teacher or assignment. We expect complaints. But sometimes, those complaints are really cries for help. Bullying at school is far too common, despite multiple programs and training sessions that hope to turn kids around.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is fiercely dedicated to seeking justice for those left behind after a victim dies of suicide. These deaths and tragic losses are preventable, and more must be done to hold involved parties accountable for negligent or harmful behavior that has ended a life. Thankfully, one law has been introduced that may help. The bill is named in memory of David Molak, a 16-year-old student in San Antonio who died from suicide after excruciating amounts of online bullying. David’s Law hopes to save lives by holding bullies accountable. Starting September 1st, cyberbullying in Texas schools is now illegal.David's Law - cyberbullying and teen suicide

No Escape For Today’s Youth

These days, almost every child has access to the internet, text messaging and/or social media. This means that even after the school’s doors are shut, bullies can still access their targets on a cell phone, tablet or laptop. Cyberbullying is brutal. As it stands, 15% of school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.

Schools have been accused of not taking enough preventative action, or indeed action at all when it comes to dealing with bullying. Recently, a 12-year-old cheerleader suffered extreme amounts of cyberbullying up until her life ended in June. Her mother cited Snapchat, texts and Instagram as just a few of the platforms used to harass her daughter. However, the school filed no harassment or bullying reports, even though the student’s mother contacted them about the bullying when it began at the beginning of the year.

David’s Law Brings Hope

David Molak, a Alamo Heights student, was a high achiever, close with family, and an active Eagle Scout. He was also the target of fierce bullying. It crushed his spirit, and he even transferred schools to try and avoid the bullying, but that only lasted a month and the damage was already done via a group text set on ridiculing and mocking David. He died by suicide soon after his transfer. His family was not quiet. A bill was put into action and passed in his honor. Built to take action against cyberbullying, which was previously not a targeted cause for concern, “David’s Law” targets school districts levels of responsibility as well as the definition of bullying.

Cyberbullying is defined as bullying via an electronic device such as phone, computer, camera, messenger apps, texts, social media platforms and websites. Examples include:

  • Creating fake profiles of students
  • Gossip and harmful rumors spread by social media
  • Spreading embarrassing pictures of a student taken without permission
  • Hurtful and menacing text or instant messages about someone

The Texas Education Code defines bullying as an action or pattern of behavior against a student that “exploits an imbalance of power and involves written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means or physical conduct.” Physical harm certainly falls under this definition, but so does any severe and persistent behavior that disrupts education for the student and harms their rights. Bullied students often miss school to avoid their tormentors, interrupting their education.

This bill does not apply to workplace bullying, only to:

  • Bullying on school property
  • During a school activity on or off school property
  • On a school bus

In addition, off-campus cyberbullying is covered if it:

  • The act disrupts a student’s access to education; or
  • The act disrupts activities related to the school, such as class or a sponsored activity or trip.

School Districts must be held to higher standards

In order to protect the lives of students, schools must acknowledge and address bullying problems as they arise. Lack of attention, and intervention, can easily lead to death. David’s Law requires the inclusion of cyberbullying in schools’ individual policies as well as implementing policies that:

  • Stop a student who is the victim of bullying from being punished when they have acted in self defense
  • Implements greater discipline for bullying a disabled student
  • Prohibits action retaliating against a person giving information about bullying
  • Making a way for students to anonymously report bullying incidents
  • And more

Parental notification is also written into the law. The involvement of aware parents is crucial to supporting a bullied student, and provides a larger aid network for them. With this law, cyberbullies can  face expulsion from school and even jail time. Restraining orders may also be granted.

Hope for Students

David’s Law is an incredibly important and necessary part of keeping students safe. Starting this September, bullies will have to think twice before terrorizing other students. In 2012, 88% of social media users in their teens have seen someone be cruel to another user, and 1 in 6 parents knew their child has been bullied. With how far technology has advanced in the past 5 years, we can only imagine the future of those statistics. And with David’s Law in place, we can only imagine how they might fall.

Texas State Law Leaves Families of Suicide Victims Searching for Answers

Hospitals responsible for multiple inpatient suicides are shielded by 1999 law

Just before last Thanksgiving, a Vermont family lost their son, a patient at the renowned Menninger Clinic in Houston, to suicide. A.G. was 25 years old when his parents sent him to Menninger after he had presented at acute risk of suicide. After a few weeks in care, his parents told his doctor he wasn’t getting better – that on the phone, he sounded more hopeless than ever. The psychiatrist assured them that the facility was doing everything possible to help him.

One day later, even though his condition had clearly not improved, the facility allowed A. G. to go to a restaurant with other patients. While at dinner, he stood up, asked to use the bathroom, left the table – unsupervised and unaccompanied – and then walked out the back door. Seventeen hours later, he had died by suicide.

A state investigation revealed what should have been obvious to Menninger staff: A. G. should never have been allowed to go into the community by himself. The clinic failed to meet its duty of care by not doing enough to protect him. But the results of that investigation were not made public.

That’s because The Menninger Clinic, like most other inpatient facilities in Texas, is protected by an unintended consequence of a 1999 law.

1999 legislation bars state department from releasing investigation results

Documents under lockThe law at the center of the issue, which went into effect on September 1, 1999, was intended to give subpoena powers to state licensing boards that oversee medical providers such as family therapists and dietitians and was created at the request of the Texas Department of Health. The Texas Hospital Association, an organization that represents hospitals and healthcare providers statewide, requested an amendment requiring those investigations to be secret.

Former state Rep. Patricia Gray, who authored the law, has stated that she never intended the law to be used as it is applied today. The secrecy regulations serve only to protect the reputation of hospitals – at the expense of patients’ safety and families’ right to justice.

At Menninger alone, at least four incidents in which patients died by suicide or made suicide attempts went unreported in the decade prior to A. G’s death. Had his parents had access to that information, they may not have decided to place him at a clinic 1,600 miles away from their home – a decision driven by the clinic’s sterling reputation that is protected by Texas law. His mother, D. L., herself a psychiatrist, spent days vetting the clinic and saw plenty of positive information, but none of the deadly safety concerns.

Lack of access to information puts thousands of patients at risk

And given that Menninger is a nationally known and well-funded facility, the risks to patients at other hospitals and clinics throughout Texas are likely even greater.

“If these kinds of safety lapses are happening at the much-celebrated Menninger Clinic,” said inpatient suicide attorney Skip Simpson, “can you imagine what’s happening out of the public eye at facilities that operate on a fraction of their budget?”  Skip knows too well how and why hospitals hide the ball from families—never disclosing to families how their loved ones died; especially in a place with one primary duty: to protect the patient.

A touted reason behind not disclosing the facts to families about their loved one’s suicide is so staff and doctors can openly address their poor decisions—behind closed doors—with no one being blamed for the death.

The proper purpose for studying hospital suicide is to employ the Stop-It-Next-Time rule. When a hospital, has something go wrong which allows a suicide, the hospital must investigate why – and then try to keep the same thing from going wrong and injuring someone again.  Instead, hospitals are not learning—just hiding. Families learn nothing about the details of the suicide unless a lawsuit is filed.

The truth is that so many families are left with unanswered questions; A. G.’s parents were explicitly told by a DSHS employee that the information they needed was in a report they would never see because of the state law. And this isn’t just a concern for a few families—it’s a major public health concern that puts thousands of patients in Texas and nationwide at risk.

Families have a right to accurate safety information about the facilities they will entrust with their loved ones’ care. Dangerous clinics and hospitals must be held responsible for the injuries and deaths they cause. And that means critical information about tragedies such as A. G.’s death cannot be hidden behind a veil of secrecy, always serving the hospital and doctors but rarely the public.

Patients, and the public, deserve better.

Zero Suicide Conference Offers Suggestions for Reducing Death by Suicide

Death by suicide is a substantial public health problem, as more than 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year. Unfortunately, the efforts being made to reduce the risk of suicide- including commitment of patients with suicidal ideation- do not seem to be effective. Increased efforts must be made both to prevent inpatient suicide and to reduce the chances of suicide among individuals experiencing mental health issues who have not been committed to an inpatient facility.

Texas Suicide LawyerThe Cap Times recently reported on the Zero Suicide movement, which is developing a new approach to suicide prevention. The goal of the movement is to lower the number of suicides to zero. The founders of the initiative believe it is possible to prevent every suicide where patients are in the care of health providers.  At a two-day conference, the theory behind zero suicide was explained and a plan was outlined for preventing both inpatient and outpatient suicides within healthcare systems.

The concern from one of the leaders of the Zero Suicide movement is the insufficient progress being made in controlling the growing number of deaths by suicide.  As the rate of deaths by suicide climb, the responses of healthcare providers and healthcare facilities has been to make incremental change or to stay the course. This is clearly not having enough of an impact, as suicide rates continue to rise.

The goal of Zero Suicide is to make wholesale change in order to ensure no person at risk of suicide goes untreated or uncared for. The focus is also on providing more comprehensive treatment, rather than just addressing depression, and on enlisting the broader community in an effort to help people who may be considering death by suicide.

Community and health organizations can and should both play an important role in helping to reduce suicide, according to the theories of the Zero Suicide organization.  The program was first started at a health system where the leader of Zero Suicide worked as a vice president.  Suicide experts pushed back on the approach initially, arguing the goal of eliminating all suicides set the healthcare organization up for failure.  Despite the criticisms on the part of suicide experts, the healthcare center overhauled its systems of patient feedback, made timely access to care a priority, and demanded a complete modification of cognitive behavior therapy methods across all departments.

It became the policy at the organization to ask the patient if they had visualized death by suicide and to describe the method. The family and patient were then told they should remove the means which would make it possible for the patient to suicide using this desired method. This became a surprisingly effective deterrent.  With the efforts made by the health center, there was an 80 percent reduction in patient suicides over 10 years and there was one year in which no deaths by suicide happened.

The airline industry has a good handle on safe flying because it thinks about ways the system could fail and corrects the problem before it happens; the health care industry, on the other hand, does not have a black-box mentality; instead the healthcare industry evades, covers up, and spins every failure it has. As a consequence hospital errors are now the third leading cause of death in America. The health care industry does not want the public to know this fact.

Other health institutions may wish to consider following the lead of the Zero Suicide group and incorporating at least some of their techniques to try to bring down death rates.

Disagreements Over the Best Method of Inpatient Care Provision

Providing mental health services is one of the most important roles a healthcare institution can fulfill, especially if a person is experiencing suicidal ideation. The right mental health care can save a life and can help to stabilize people with serious illnesses such as depression.  Unfortunately, not all healthcare providers are capable of offering appropriate services to people experiencing mental illness.

Part of the problem stems from disagreements over appropriate provision of care and the right methods to use for treating mental illness. WQAD recently reported, for example, on fights between hospitals over who is best capable of providing inpatient care and where the care should be provided. As hospitals and other healthcare service providers go back and forth on what help should be offered to patients, it is victims who often suffer because there is no clear plan for inpatient treatment which has been proven effective.

Disputes Over Providing Inpatient Care Can Harm Vulnerable Patients

WQAD reports a company called Strategic Behavior Health (SBH) is seeking to open a new mental health facility. SBH is already operating two psychiatric hospitals which treat patients using both inpatient and outpatient services, including a hospital called Peak View Behavioral Health. When SBH tried to open its third facility, the two largest local health systems objected.

The local health systems, UnityPoint Health Trinity and Genesis Health System, argued SBH would cherry-pick patients who could pay the most and would make it harder for existing facilities to provide appropriate mental healthcare services.  Local hospitals also believe inpatient care is outdated, while SBH agrees and asserts the benefits of inpatient treatment.

In addition to concerns about the type of care and the cherry-picking of patients, there are also worries about whether there are enough doctors in the local area to provide staffing for all of the healthcare facilities who treat patients with mental illness.  One advocacy group, for example, indicated the problem with providing healthcare services locally is not a shortage of psychiatric beds but is instead a shortage of qualified psychiatric professionals.

Unfortunately, this disagreement means an inpatient facility which could provide important help in mental health care and suicide prevention may not be built or there may be a delay in building.  If there is a shortage of qualified caregivers, it also means facilities providing mental health services could be understaffed or unqualified staff members could be hired. When there is an inadequate level of staffing and/or staff members are not properly trained, patients will suffer.

This is an especially big risk for patients who are receiving treatment for suicidal ideation because it will be necessary for these patients to be carefully monitored. If an inpatient facility does not provide the supervision and help they need, the facility could be held accountable for malpractice if a patient is seriously injured or dies while receiving care.

Can Inpatient Care for Mental Health Issues be Improved?

A quarter of adults in the United States meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness. More than 1,069,000 people in the country attempted suicide in 2014 alone, according to the American Association of Suicidology.

Americans spent as much as $69 billion on mental healthcare services back in 1999 and while there is no current accurate data, experts suspect the spending is significantly higher today than it was almost two decades ago. Unfortunately, despite the massive spending and the significant need for effective inpatient and outpatient treatment, the system designed to treat people with mental health issues is fraught with problems in the United States.

Pacific Standard recently published an in-depth report of some of the issues with mental healthcare services in the United States. The report highlighted problems with inpatient care facilities in particular – and suggestions for positive change.

Until more effective solutions are identified, however, patients will continue to be at the mercy of care providers who  likely are not  equipped to actually fulfill their role at treating illness and preventing death by suicide. When a death occurs either under the care of an outpatient care provider or while a patient is receiving inpatient mental health services, family members of the victim should consider pursuing litigation  to hold the care providers accountable and, importantly help change conditions in the mental health industry

Problems in the U.S. Mental Healthcare System

Pacific Standard Magazine reported on one situation in which the mental health commissioner for the state of Virginia took a trip to an inpatient psychiatric care facility run by the state. The commissioner saw a facility which appeared very functional, as he saw impressive presentations and met with residents. However, the entire system seemed so perfect the commissioner suspected a Potemkin village had been constructed for his benefit.

He was proved right when he dropped by unannounced several weeks later. Residents suffering from behavioral problems smelled of unwashed clothing and urine. Patients requiring intensive treatment were alone in rooms as staff members chatted with each other in hallways. Overmedicated patients were also everywhere, slouched on the couch in front of the television.

When the commissioner tried to take steps to fix conditions, he discovered quickly there was little he could do to improve things and he also discovered similar problems existed nationwide in care facilities. He has since written a book focused on the problems with the mental healthcare system in America as well as focused on suggestions for making positive changes.

Unfortunately, the problems he identified with inpatient care are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to nationwide issues with mental health services. Some of the many issues include psychologists and psychiatrists relying on outdated treatments and insurers who refuse to pay for the care patients need.

Less than 15 percent of mental health care consumers actually receive care based on evidence, and those who don’t can suffer greatly from ineffective treatments.  When this poor care is provided to patients and suicide or other serious consequences result, it is important to pursue claims against those responsible to ensure there is at least accountability within the ineffective patchwork system for providing care.

Veterans and Inpatient Suicide Risks

As the San Diego Tribune recently reported, suicide rates are high among veterans who have served in combat since the attacks on 9/11/01. Unfortunately, research into veteran suicides reveals that both the VA and civilian health institutions are not doing enough to help when veterans appear to be giving up on treatment or experiencing despair. In some cases, veterans in inpatient care are not even being provided with the minimum level of assistance they need. a-morning-at-the-hospital-1-1440095

When someone is in a VA hospital or other treatment facility and there is a risk of death by suicide, steps need to be taken to ensure the person is properly monitored and an effective treatment plan is in place. When this does not happen and inpatient suicide occurs, the family members of the victim need to hold the institution and mental health professionals working at the institution accountable for their failures. This is especially true in situations where professionals who work with veterans regularly should be aware of signs of suicidal ideation and should ensure the proper healthcare is provided for patients who are receiving inpatient psychiatric care.

Veterans at Risk of Inpatient Suicide

According to the San Diego Tribune, one case which has spurred the VA to try to make some changes involved a 37-year-old Air Force Veteran who died by suicide at a local hospital within days of being released from a lockdown psychiatric hold. He had been released from lockdown even though he clearly was not yet ready for release, as he was still experiencing suicidal ideation. He was admitted to a drug rehabilitation program at the same hospital with the belief he would get further help in the rehab program. Unfortunately, he hanged himself in his room.

Following this veteran’s death, the hospital decided to formalize the process of handoffs among inpatient units so staff members in different units would document that they had reviewed the patient’s case together and were aware of the risks. This is certainly a positive change: If veterans are to be released from one inpatient program to a different one when still at risk of suicide, extra precautions will need to be taken by new care providers to be watchful for continuing signs of suicidal ideation.

Unfortunately, changing the process of handoffs may not be enough to stop the epidemic of veteran suicides. Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America believes the government is downplaying the severity of the suicide crisis, which is a major public health issue more resources are needed to address. He compared the failures to provide appropriate care to suicidal veterans to the lack of response in the early days of the AIDS crisis.

The government has a responsibility to veterans, and the VA in particular has an obligation to make sure veterans are getting the care they need. Most importantly, facilities treating veterans must take seriously their duties to monitor and protect those who served, especially as suicide rates remain high.

Hospital Records Can be Invaluable Evidence After Inpatient Suicide

Mental health facilities have obligations to psychiatric patients to keep them safe, particularly when patients are on suicide watch and there is a risk of death by suicide.  One of the duties in most facilities is simply to monitor patients who are at great risk to ensure they do not try to self-harm.  If a hospital has failed in any of its obligations to patients and inpatient suicide occurs as a result of this failure, it is possible to take legal action against the facility. documents-1427202

Hospitals can be held responsible for negligence in policies which lead to patients dying by suicide. If staff members fail to fulfill the obligations imposed upon them by their jobs, mental health facilities can also be held accountable due to these on-duty errors or the negligence of staff members in fulfilling work tasks.

Hospital records and other internal evidence from mental health facilities can prove invaluable in determining if the facility has lived up to its obligations or not.  An experienced inpatient suicide lawyer can assist family members of patients who died by suicide in obtaining necessary records to help prove negligence.

Video Surveillance Footage Helps to Show Staff Failure in Mental Health Facility

Naples News reported on one tragic case which illustrates how information a hospital collects can be used to help prove negligence after inpatient suicide occurs.  The case involved the suicide of a 51-year-old man who was in a psychiatric inpatient hospital. The man had been admitted because of feelings of paranoia, hopelessness, and depression. His admissions paperwork indicated he had been having suicidal thoughts.

During the time he was in the 103-bed facility, the 51-year-old man was quiet and didn’t participate in any activities or therapy sessions. Two days prior to his death, he asked to talk to a social worker and requested forms for a living will. The social worker didn’t ask the reason for this request, and did not report the request to anyone.   The patient’s doctor indicates he would have put the patient on immediate suicide watch if he had been aware a request for a living will was made.

Even though the patient was not on suicide watch, he was still supposed to be checked on every 15-minutes.  Unfortunately, though written paperwork indicated these checks had happened, surveillance footage from the hospital shows there were two checks missed in a row. Neither a 9:15 and a 9:30 check happened. By 9:45, when the 51-year-old patient was finally checked on, the patient had gone into the bathroom and hanged himself with a tied-up hospital gown.

There were numerous situations in this case where the hospital facility dropped the ball, from the social worker not reporting the living will to the 15-minute checks not being made. The surveillance evidence and the patient records including the living will help to show how the hospital facility fell short of its obligations.  A suicide lawyer can help family members to obtain this type of evidence to prove a mental health facility should be held accountable for lapses.

 

Rehab Facility The Site of Another Patient Suicide

Facilities that provide inpatient care to patients experiencing mental health issues have a strong obligation to make sure patients are carefully monitored and appropriately treated to prevent an attempted suicide. When patients are depressed and experiencing suicidal ideation, it is especially imperative the institutions in charge of them take active steps to protect them.

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Sometimes, however, institutions fall short. One such institution, which tells patients to “expect a miracle” is considered one of the foremost rehabilitation centers in the country. The strong reputation and appealing promises made by the institution led one family to pay $64,800 to get care for a 55-year-old man who had been struggling with chronic depression. The man’s admission to the rehabilitation facility was his first time in a residential treatment center, although he had previously been hospitalized for mental health issues. Unfortunately, Tucson.com reports the man died by suicide while under the care of the rehabilitation center.

In cases like this one, serious questions arise regarding whether the inpatient treatment center did enough to protect the residential patient or whether the center fell short. In this case, a lawsuit has been filed in response to the inpatient suicide, with family members claiming they were misled into thinking the patient would be safe and arguing the facility was negligent because staff members failed to notice the patient had not shown up for scheduled activities.

Responsibility for Inpatient Suicides

Despite its promises of miracle cures, the facility has faced trouble in the past with actually living up to its promises.  Five patients have died in the care of the facility since 2011, all of whom were men between the ages of 20 and 71. Three of the patients died of suicide, two hanging themselves with a shoelace and one hanging himself with a belt.

Because of problems with the provision of patient care, the state Department of Health Services has been heavily monitoring its operations. The monitoring requirement was imposed because the rehab center was not following its own policies on keeping track of where its patients were. In the case of the 55-year-old suicide victim, for example, the man did not show up for any of the five activities he was scheduled to attend. He also missed appointments.

When patients are 15 minutes late for an activity, staff members are supposed to look for them.  Interviews with staff members, however, revealed no one looked for this man for hours, until it was too late. Staff members also confirmed they did not know who was responsible for taking attendance of patients, reporting when a patient was absent, and calling for the initiation of a search to locate the patient.

It was especially important for the facility to take action here, as records show the suicide victim had described feelings of total helplessness and thoughts of suicide.  Inpatient facilities are supposed to be operated specifically to protect patients like this when they offer care to those experiencing thoughts of suicide and they need to be held accountable when they fail in fulfilling obligations.