Inpatient Suicide – Mental Health Facility – Psychiatric Unit Negligence

Suicide - Wrongful Death1,800 of the 35,000 suicides that are committed every year are inpatient suicides.

Hospital psychiatric units and inpatient mental health facilities are specifically designed to help people that are troubled. That is why it is so shocking when an inpatient suicide occurs. People that place a loved one in mental health facilities are safe to assume that their loved one will receive the right amount of care and attention. A patient should never have an opportunity or the means to commit suicide.

Unfortunately mental health professionals sometimes fail to exercise reasonable care by under-staffing their facility, hiring unqualified staff, failing to supervise or train staff or by failing to implement suitable safety and treatment guidelines.

1,800 of the 35,000 suicides that are committed every year are inpatient suicides. The average psychiatric nurse will experience a completed suicide during a shift every 2½ years. Hanging is the most common method of suicide in psychiatric hospitals and 3 out 4 suicides happen in the bathroom or bedroom. The bathroom after all provides the most privacy.

Suicide Risk Assessments

Adequate education, training and experience are required in order to perform a proper suicide risk assessment. A detailed demographic profile should be performed which should include marital status, education, employment history, living situation and sexual orientation to name a few. The mental health professional performing the assessment needs to learn if the patient is or has ever considered suicide, if they ever planned a suicide, attempted suicide, if they intend to die via suicide or if they are under an unusual amount of mental or physical stress. While all manner of people commit suicide white males in their adolescent or older years are more at risk as are people that have attempted suicide in the past. The following mental health conditions put the patient at the highest risk for suicide: bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and substance abuse or dependency and the patient should be question about this.

The suicide risk assessment must be fully documented. Often times the record of the formal risk assessment reveals how the mental health professional underestimated the suicide risk, missed the signs or improperly performed the assessment.

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Causes of Inpatient Suicides

The following is a list of some of the causes of inpatient suicide:

  • Negligent suicide watch;
  • Failing to conduct adequate and frequent suicide assessments and adjust monitoring to appropriate level of supervision;
  • Misdiagnosing mental illness;
  • Under staffing: not having enough staff to monitor patients;
  • Failing to remove the patient’s shoe laces or belt;
  • Failing to remove dangerous items from the patient when they are admitted;
  • Allowing the patient to have access to dangerous items after they are admitted;
  • Maintaining shower curtains, door handles and other anchor points that could be used for hanging;
  • Breakaway door handles and shower curtains and rods should be installed;
  • Prescribing incorrect and harmful psychotropic drugs;
  • Improperly securing or locking windows;
  • Providing pajamas with draw strings;
  • Not removing all plastic bags from the unit; and
  • Replacing door hinges with piano hinges.

Suicide Watch

According to a 2010 article published by William H. Reid in Law and Psychiatry most incidents result from “inadequate monitoring and protection of new patients with moderate or high suicide risk, or with unknown risk. Unknown or unpredictable risk must be assumed to be ‘high’ until clarified by a qualified clinician.”

A patient should never have the means to achieve death by suicide. A suicide watch should provide constant monitoring of the patient. Most hospitals use 15-minute checks or Q15 under the mistaken belief that checking in with a suicidal patient every 15 minutes is sufficient to prevent a suicide. Any facility that uses a Q15/15 minute checks with a seriously suicidal patient or a patient with uncertain suicide risk levels is negligent. It takes a minute or two for someone the hang themselves with a shirt and it only takes a moment for someone jump out of a window.

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When someone you love is taken from you unexpectedly through the deliberate or careless actions of another, it is common to feel profound sadness and /or intense anger, or even numbness.  Sometimes, the situation is just too painful to accept and you may feel like pursuing a civil claim will only perpetuate that pain.  But it is our experience that many families are able to find closure when they know civil justice has been accomplished.  Families go on to use proceeds from successful claims to begin the healing process, or even to donate to charities in memory of a loved one.

Damages awarded to the family of a victim is one way to punish those who are responsible for your pain, but compensation is also something you are entitled to under Massachusetts law in order to help you and your family with the expenses of putting your life back together.

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Example List of Hospital Psychiatric Units and Mental Health Facilities in Massachusetts

The following is a list of some of the Hospital Psychiatric Units and Mental Health Facilities in Massachusetts:

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