Mental Health Awareness Month 2022
Every year, millions of Americans navigate living with a mental illness. The month of May is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of mental health and how it impacts the well-being of everyone, as well as reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and treatment. Stress, trauma, anxiety, and heightened levels of depression are all common mental health issues that Americans face. These common conditions were exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis, which in turn has created an unprecedented mental health crisis.
The rate of depression has more than tripled compared to reported rates in 2019. With the rate of depression increasing, and only about 36% of Americans receiving treatment for their mental health conditions, it is likely that there will additionally be an increase in suicide attempts.
Medical facilities are meant to be a safe environment that protects and treats individuals with mental health conditions. Unfortunately, deaths are far too common during inpatient psychiatric care or premature release from psychiatric care. While an individual is in the care of a qualified medical professional, the psychiatrist or psychologist is responsible for taking appropriate measures to ensure the patient’s safety.
Mental Health Facilities and Their Responsibilities
Mental health care facilities are psychiatric institutions or hospital units that serve individuals experiencing severe mental, behavioral, or emotional conditions or disorders. Due to factors such as patient residency and vulnerability, problematic patient care can be both deeply serious and easily unnoticed.
When a medical provider neglects the standard of care and a patient is injured as a result, the healthcare provider has an incident of medical malpractice. Standard of care refers to the level of skill and treatment that is widely used and accepted by the average doctor for a particular situation. While this can be difficult to explicitly define, medical professionals acting outside the expected and recognized norms can be shown to be in disregard of the accepted standard. In short, the harm you or your loved one sustained would not have happened under best practice care. In these cases of medical malpractice, a victim is well within their rights to bring legal action against the healthcare provider.
Medical malpractice can look different within different medical fields. When a suicidal person is being seen at a hospital unit, psychiatric facility, mental health center, or mental health professional’s private practice, their loved ones believe that they are safe. However, many licensed professionals are poorly trained in detection, assessment, protection, and treatment of suicidal individuals. Our team at GreeningLaw P.C. is aware of the complicated natures of mental health care, and the sensitive relationship between medical providers and mental health patients.
We take a compassionate and personalized approach when partnering with our clients and their loved ones while we navigate their mental health medical malpractice. By examining mental health malpractice and advising the legal action that can be taken, we work to provide empowerment to individuals who have experienced harm due to the actions of negligent medical providers.
What Is Psychiatric Malpractice
Malpractice performed by psychiatrists is typically different from that of medical doctors. These are typically negligence or an abuse of power. Some examples of psychiatric malpractice include:
- Failure to take an independent and complete psychiatric and medical history of the patient
- Failure to thoroughly review what can be voluminous medical and psychiatric records
- Negligent psychiatric hospital care
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Failure to obtain informed consent
- Failing to notice signs the patient may be a risk to themselves or others
- Failing to monitor a suicidal patient
- Failure to protect patients from harming themselves
- Failure to refer to an appropriate specialist
- Failure to prescribe the proper medication
- Failure to prevent the elopement of a psychiatric patient from a locked facility
Psychiatric malpractice can lead to emotional trauma or distress or even physical injury. If a patient is prescribed a medication that is unnecessary for their condition or does not receive the required medication for their condition, it can have adverse side effects or lead to death. In these scenarios, patients can become a danger to others or themselves, amplifying the potential harm from the malpractice.
The law requires that a psychiatrist contact a third party when there is a risk that his or her patients may commit suicide or harm themselves. If the medical professional fails to take action to prevent a patient’s suicide and knew the patient had intended to commit suicide, then the medical provider may be held liable for a wrongful death action.
Inpatient Suicide Statistics and Prevention
In the United States, there are 35,000 or more suicides per year. Of those 35,000, approximately 1,800 (6%) are inpatient suicides. Inpatient suicide is the most common sentinel event reported to the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) across a ten-year period (1995 – 2005). Approximately 1 of every 2 inpatient suicides result in a medical malpractice claim compared to approximately 1 of 4 outpatient suicides. According to JCAHO, the single greatest clinical cause of inpatient suicide is clinical assessment failure. Risk is not adequately addressed in approximately 60% of cases.
Inpatient suicides are viewed as the most preventable and avoidable because they occur in close proximity to staff. A systematic review of inpatient suicides by JCAHO revealed:
- Inpatient suicide rates correlate strongly with the admission rate
- 78% had at least 1 previous admission
- 20% to 62% of suicides occurred on intermittent observation
- 2% to 9% of suicides occurred on constant observation (staff informally cease observation to undertake other activities)
- Inpatients who commit suicide are not a homogeneous group
- Immediate post discharge is a high-risk period because of the increased stress it poses
- Reduced staff supervision increases risk, especially at night, during hand-offs, and in unsupervised areas
In order to prevent inpatient suicide, various approaches have been recommended, including morbidity and mortality conferences, root cause analyses, and Failsure Mode and Effect Anaysis (FMEA). FMEA provides an analysis of the entire system of suicide risk assessment and management that identifies high-risk problem potential, with the goal of eliminating failure points. These recommendations often include:
- More stringent risk assessment
- More stringent patient risk monitoring
- Better monitoring for behavioral signs and symptoms
- Improve staff communication of signs and risks
- Wait for significant, stable, and reliable change before relaxing precautions
- Improve suboptimal staff-patient relations
- Do not solely rely on patient self-reporting
- Do not rely on “no suicide” contracts
- Ensure a safe physical environment that does not provide means to commit suicide or access to hidden areas
It is important for the inpatient medical professionals to understand the perspectives of a newly admitted patient. Many patients find the experience dehumanizing, threatening, or socially alienating and may perceive it as a personal failure.
Proving Liability in Suicide Cases
Proving that an institution is at fault for a patient’s suicide or injury first requires that the provider was negligent in their care for the patient. If the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) is able to prove the negligence of the medical professional, the next step is to prove that the negligence caused the suicide or injury. At that point, it is important to determine if the suicide or injury was foreseeable.
Too many Americans lose loved ones to suicide because they expect their loved ones to receive competent, professional care. Here at GreeningLaw P.C., we believe that reducing the suicide rate in healthcare institutions starts with holding medical providers accountable. As one of the most recognized personal injury law firms in the state, we have the experience and expertise to pursue medical institutions and providers to ensure justice is served for you and your loved ones. We care about you and your outcome, and we will treat your case with the same respect and thoroughness with which we would our own families.
Contact us 24/7 to schedule a free consultation. In that consultation, we will ask about details surrounding your case, discuss possible compensation you may receive, and suggest the best course of action. And, because our attorneys work on a contingency basis, you don’t pay a dime unless we win your case.