As a St. Louis personal injury lawyer, I noted a recent news report that a 16-year-old girl’s death in the adolescent psychiatric ward of SSM DePaul Health Center in Bridgeton was ruled a homicide. State and federal regulators had already warned the hospital to correct its alarming series of lapses in patient safety. The hospital apparently failed to live up to its moral and legal obligations to provide enough well-trained staff to care for all of its patients. The tragic result may have been the death of Alexis Evette Richie, who had reportedly been verbally and physically abused by staff members.
Alexis had been in foster care for nine years and was often in emotional turmoil that led to acting out. She was admitted to DePaul after stabbing a teacher at Evangelical Children’s Home with a pencil on October 16, 2009. She died in the hospital ten days later. The day of her death, she reportedly verbally abused and physically attacked DePaul staff members after she was told that it was time to go to bed, and was threatened with a tranquilizer when she did not comply. To restrain her, staff members held her facedown in a beanbag chair while a nurse administered shots of Geodon (ziprasidone), an antipsychotic, and Ativan (lorazepam), an anti-anxiety drug. Then the nurse left. Alexis reportedly went limp, so the aides left her facedown in the beanbag chair. Finally, the charge nurse checked on Alexis and found her unresponsive and soaked in her own urine, with a weak pulse, no reflexes and fixed pupils.
The charge nurse did not begin CPR, and nurses even told an aide not to begin CPR because there was no breathing mask. The aide started CPR anyway, 12 minutes after the charge nurse discovered Alexis’s condition. Nine minutes later, a doctor put a breathing tube down Alexis’s throat, and an emergency team tried to restart her heart, but soon after, she was pronounced dead. An autopsy showed that she died from being sedated and suffocated by the beanbag chair. Leaving Alexis for 12 minutes after she stopped moving was cited as a serious problem in investigations by both the state health inspector and the Children’s Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services. The Children’s Division also charged the aides and the nurse who administered the shots with child neglect, since Alexis had been a ward of the state. Alexis’s biological parents have hired an attorney to investigate the case as well.
In my view as a Missouri wrongful death attorney, cases like Alexis’s demonstrate what can go wrong when hospital staff are poorly trained, ill-supervised, and spread too thin. State and federal regulators had warned DePaul two years earlier to pay more attention to patient safety after learning about other patients’ deaths after being restrained and secluded — deaths that DePaul failed to report to the authorities, as is legally required. A nurse said that the hospital was short-staffed because of budget cuts, so patients in seclusion and restraint weren’t being monitored constantly, also as legally required. And in Alexis’s case, nurses told police that they didn’t even know why they didn’t start CPR on Alexis as soon as they discovered her condition.
Patients who enter a hospital do so expecting to get better, not to be neglected and abused. All patients, including foster children with no one to stand up for them, should be able to expect that hospitals will adhere to basic standards of care. Federal and state regulators do their best to ensure that hospitals meet their responsibilities, but as DePaul’s case demonstrates, when hospitals keep regulators in the dark about their problems, regulators can’t always address the problems. Unfortunately, patients and their families are the ones who experience the consequences of these failings. A southern Illinois personal injury attorney can help these victims fight back, holding negligent hospitals responsible for their careless conduct. It’s important for families of victims killed by a hospital staff’s carelessness to contact a lawyer immediately, since wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within as little as 30 days after families learn about the incident.
The personal injury lawyers of Carey, Danis & Lowe are experienced in helping families injured by hospitals’ negligence. We represent family members in cases of wrongful death or serious personal injury, and help victims seek compensation for all of the physical, emotional and financial damage the wrongful act caused. This can include compensation for past and future medical expenses, lost past and future wages, pain and suffering, disability and other damages. It also includes compensation for lost quality of life, a permanent disability or the permanent loss of a loved one’s care and companionship. We offer a free initial consultation to all potential clients, and if you cannot make it to our office, we will come to you at the hospital or at your home. To learn more, you can call us toll-free at 1-877-678-3400, or send us a message online.