Hospitals Ill-Equipped to Deal with Psychiatric Emergencies


The family of a man who threw himself from a 10th floor balcony at the Tripler Army Medical Center, almost exactly as he described, is suing the hospital for carelessness and medical negligence. The man had been undergoing treatment for depression from 1999 until 2006, but like many bipolar individuals his depression treatments probably exacerbated his manic episodes, increasing his mood swings. In December 2006 his condition worsened and he appeared in the emergency room of the medical center on December 16 and 26, saying he needed help. He demanded treatment, saying that he would kill himself by throwing himself off the top of the hospital. However, he did not get help on either of these occasions, despite having waited five hours on the 16th and three hours on the 26th before leaving in disgust. On the 16th he was admitted to see a doctor training to be a psychiatrist. On the 26th he left angry, telling doctors and nurses that he was going to jump from the top of the hospital. When the man did see a psychiatrist on the 27th, he concealed his suicidal thoughts. Then, on January 3, 2007 he threw himself from the 10th floor balcony, killing himself.

This case reveals that emergency room personnel are ill-equipped to deal with psychiatric emergencies. Although it seems unlikely that every hospital could maintain a psychiatrist on the emergency room staff, it does seem that every hospital should train its triage nurses in recognizing psychiatric emergencies, and the hospital should be able to arrange for someone with such an emergency to see a real psychiatrist in less than five hours. With the high incidence of suicidal ideation attendant on depression treatments, such as that with SSRIs like Paxil or other classes of drugs like Zyprexa, hospitals that prescribe such medication have to be prepared to deal with the consequences of these often injurious pharmaceuticals. Sadly, though, most hospitals are not, and if someone with a psychiatric problem comes to the emergency room, they may be luckier if they don’t see the staff psychiatrist, who will give them a potent dose of mood controllers that may stabilize them temporarily, but often have serious side effects later.

If you or someone you love has experienced this form of medical malpractice in the emergency room, contact today to get in touch with a local lawyer who can help you get compensation for your mistreatment.