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Nurse falls asleep, patient breaks neck at LA-area psych hospital

Admitting a loved one into a mental hospital is a difficult decision. The thought of good care and a safe environment may be the only peace of mind with which family members can walk away. But what happens when caregivers at a facility are negligent and a lack of care results in a wrongful death case? One California family is currently wrestling with this problem.

A 52-year-old former kindergarten teacher was staying at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, California. During her stay, she somehow fell from her bed during the night and ended up lying immobile on the floor. A nurse was assigned to her room that night, but was periodically falling asleep. The patient was not found on the floor until 7 a.m. the next morning.

Her injuries were severe: she had broken her neck. Not only did it take time to realize she had fallen from her bed but it also took an hour to assess her injuries and another four hours to get her to the appropriate trauma center to treat her injuries. This incident left the woman paralyzed and she died six months later.

Internal investigations show serious deficiencies in the state's psychiatric hospitals, as these hospitals have been reported in connection with negligent acts on the part of their employees. These negligent acts include failure to conduct patient checks, sleeping on the job, lying to protect other hospital employees and failure to summon help in a timely fashion. There have been a number of similar cases occurring at the state's psychiatric hospitals, some of which have been cited in court documents.

No one should suffer the loss of a family member under such circumstances. Any individual who has should contact an experienced attorney to discuss a wrongful death suit. Negligence at psychiatric hospitals and similar facilities is absolutely unacceptable.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Patient's broken neck went unnoticed," Lee Romney, May 13, 2012

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