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Family sues psychiatric hospital for negligence, confinement

Hospital negligence and medical malpractice can involve the slip of a knife or the failure to diagnose a disease that would have otherwise been curable. At the core of such claims are that the doctor of the facility failed to provide their patients with reasonable care. Often overlooked are cases involving mental health, an area of medicine just as vulnerable to malpractice as any other.

Maryland families with loved ones in psychiatric hospitals might find the following piece particularly interesting. It involves a case from a neighboring state, but it could as easily have happened here.

According to reports about the matter, the family of a Virginia man is suing Western State Hospital and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as six members of a treatment team who oversaw the care of a man who spent 15 years in seclusion. The family claims that the man was improperly kept in segregation and denied necessary medical care, which ultimately led to his man death in 2009.

The man's family fought for years to have him transferred out of Western State Hospital. The man's sister filed the lawsuit on behalf of the man's estate last fall. According to the court papers, the family alleges that the man's treatment team was unwarranted in holding him in seclusion for so long. They also claim that the doctors and the hospital failed to provide adequate psychiatric and medical care, including preventive screening that might have identified the cancer that eventually killed him.

According to the hospital, the man was kept in seclusion to reduce the amount of time he needed to be in restraints or in smaller seclusion cells. The hospital alleged that the man had a long history of violent outbursts against hospital staff and patients. Though no charges were ever filed for the alleged assaults, the hospital constructed the small three-room living suite for the man.

In 2008, an oversight committee ordered the man removed from seclusion. He was finally transferred out of Western State Hospital and died of colon cancer a short time later. The family is now asking for more than $100 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Source: newsleader.com, "Family of Man Secluded at Mental Hospital Sues," Maria Longley and Dave Ress, July 21, 2012

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