Mental Health Care Experts Opine on Unattended Patient Suicide


Health Care Expert WitnessThis case involves a male mental healthcare patient who was a member of a community-based addiction and mental health recovery center in Mississippi. He had been sent to the facility for depression. He had reported thoughts of suicide, and had attempted suicide before. The man was evaluated upon admission, noting his history of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, he was considered at a high risk of suicide. However, he was only undergoing light therapy at the time, while considering medications such as Lexapro or Effexor. About two weeks into the program, the center transported the patient to an outside facility for a medical test. On the way back from the study, the driver stopped to use the restroom and permitted the man to exit the vehicle. The driver then left him unattended. In the driver’s absence, the man walked down the street and threw himself off an overpass onto the highway below. He died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Do you have extensive experience working as director or in a managerial position at a behavior treatment center?
  • 2. Do you have experience working with suicidal patients /residents?
  • 3. Are you familiar with the steps and protocols that need to be followed when transporting a patient?

Expert Witness Response E-001060

I have worked with patients like the man you have described for over 30 years. I have previously served as the Director of the a large state hospital, and I have had extensive contact with suicidal patients and experience minimizing the risk they pose to themselves. Over the course of my career, I have become familiar with the appropriate transport protocols for psychiatric patients and treatment center residents. The protocol used by the facility in question must have been inadequate, ignored, or non-existent. The patient should have had an attendant with him at all times; furthermore, the driver should avoid taking breaks during transit and patients should not be kept waiting. Having worked at several different facilities in five states, I have witnessed patients exhibit self-destructive behavior.

Expert Witness Response E-034569

As I currently serve as the Clinical Director of a treatment center for patients suffering from substance abuse and mental health difficulties, I am experienced treating patients with suicidal ideation, like the man described. Had this been my patient, I certainly would have made a note to the driver not to leave him unattended and would have warned him to be vigilant with him. I am happy to say that no one under my care has committed suicide, nor have I ever been the subject of a suit.

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