Having a loved one with a mental health condition can be hard on caretakers. Some mental illnesses have the potential to result in harm to others or self-inflicted harm that may end in severe disability or death. As a concerned family member, you do everything in your power to get him or her the best help available.
Sometimes you may have to leave your loved one’s mental health treatment to medical professionals who can provide full time care until the crisis is under control. You place your highest trust in these specialized hospital units and psychiatric facilities to ensure your family member’s safety and hope that they can find the right formula for making his or her life better – safer. Unfortunately, the instances of medical malpractice that result in these facilities can crush that hope.
Medical malpractice claims extend beyond the negligence of general practitioners, internists, and surgeons to include psychiatrists who take care of our mental health. When they breach a duty they owe to their patient, and that patient comes to harm, grounds for a medical malpractice claim are likely to arise.
A recent investigation by the Los Angeles Times into deaths in psychiatric facilities around California alone over the last 10 years showed that there were 100 deaths – almost one per month – that could have been prevented. According to the Times, hospital negligence or malpractice played into these deaths due to insufficient staffing, staff errors, lack of training, and unsafe facilities. Some of the incidents that have caused patient harm and death include:
- Improperly restraining a patient, causing suffocation
- Failure to timely check on patients, providing them the opportunity for self-harm
- Failure to maintain regular supervision, enabling patients to hide alcohol and drugs
Despite periodic state investigations finding negligent and unsafe conditions in these facilities, no fines are imposed, and these hospitals remain under the radar to unsuspecting families seeking help.
The area of mental health is so neglected that health care providers often write off any symptom these patients exhibit as being mental health related, to the patient’s detriment. An Ohio woman died after seeking mental health treatment and her husband filed suit against the hospital when she died. The woman was initially admitted for treatment for anxiety and depression and experienced symptoms of hypoglycemia while in their care, for which she was never tested. Medical staff assumed her odd behavior was related to her mental health issue and that negligence led to the victim experiencing such severe brain damage that she couldn’t survive.
To make matters more concerning, no one is keeping tabs on the number of deaths that occur in psychiatric facilities across the country. It would seem that if there was some agency oversight that perhaps there would be investigations into these deaths that uncover the routine negligence that occurs, potentially preventing recurrences.