The day after an ambulance brought Jodi Booze to Community Behavioral Health Center, she killed herself in the Fresno psychiatric hospital, her family says.
In another case, the children of Gloria Archuleta say a male mental-health patient with a violent past attacked their mother in the hospital, breaking her back and causing injuries that resulted in the 67-year-old Selma woman dying from a heart attack.
The families are suing Community Behavioral Health in separate lawsuits for wrongful death and medical malpractice, alleging the hospital failed to keep their loved ones safe.
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Booze’s death in November 2014 and Archuleta’s in June 2013 show that Community Behavioral lacks “a fundamental understanding of what they need to do to obtain patient safety at all times,” says Monrae English, the Fresno lawyer who is representing the families.
Community Medical Centers, which operates the 61-bed psychiatric hospital in north Fresno, says the “two incidents were clearly unfortunate.” In an email statement, Michelle Von Tersch, vice president of communications, also says the hospital “reported both incidents to the state when they occurred more than a year ago and both were investigated. The incidents are currently in litigation, but we don’t believe Community is liable.”
The incidents are currently in litigation, but we don’t believe Community is liable.
Michelle Von Tersch, Community Medical Centers
The California Department of Public Health, which licenses hospitals, says investigators did not find deficiencies at Behavioral Health in Booze’s death, but they did find the hospital had failed to protect Archuleta from physical abuse and harm.
Community officials declined to comment on the state investigations.
English says the state findings are only “part of an equation in determining whether a facility was negligent or abusive with one of their patients.”
The hospital had the resources and tools to protect patients from harming themselves while in their care, English says. In Booze’s case, she says, it’s clear they had a duty to do more than “just check in on her once every 15 minutes.”
The family contends in its lawsuit that Behavioral Health had a responsibility to assess Booze and provide care for her physical and mental health needs, particularly “as it related to monitoring and providing safe environments for their patients who reported suicidal ideations.”
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 25, also names two psychiatrists who it says provided care in the hospital. The family is seeking unspecified compensatory and general damages for emotional distress and for Booze’s death.
According to the lawsuit, Booze, 54, had been depressed for about four months before she entered the psychiatric hospital. She had had suicidal thoughts, specifically having fantasies about hanging herself. And she had attempted to kill herself in her home.
The family had been afraid to leave her alone. Husband James Booze and son Dalton Booze had taken turns staying home with her.
Providing around-the-clock care was exhausting, but “for a loved one, you’d do anything,” James Booze said on Jan. 6, on what would have been the couple’s 21st wedding anniversary.
Before the depression, Booze, a mother of five and grandmother of nine, had been a happy homemaker who volunteered at the Animal Rescue of Fresno, but the depression debilitated her and she became withdrawn, James Booze said.
We knew she was sick. We were there for help.
James Booze, husband of Jodi Booze
Doctors had placed his wife on medications, but she was fearful of taking the drugs, he said. She wanted to get better, though, and twice had checked herself into Community Behavioral before she was involuntarily admitted on Nov. 25, 2014.
On the day she was taken to the psychiatric hospital, she had threatened to kill herself; James Booze said he called 911 for help. About a week earlier, she had attempted to kill herself and had been taken to a Stockton hospital, because no beds were then available in Fresno, he said.
James Booze said the plan was for his wife to stay at Community Behavioral until she could be stabilized. But according to the lawsuit, on Nov. 26, 2014, the day after her admission, Jodi Booze was found in a bathroom shower. She had hanged herself with a pair of “scrub pants,” the lawsuit says.
“We knew she was sick,” James Booze said. “We were there for help.”
Gloria Archuleta also had depression and sought care at Community Behavioral in May 2013.
Archuleta had been depressed off and on for about two years, her daughter, Diane Frias, said recently. Archuleta had lost her job when a fruit processing plant closed, about the same time a relationship of about 25 years had ended.
Frias said her mother “seemed saddened because no one else was at home. All the kids were gone. He was gone. She just started feeling lonely.”
Archuleta’s children took turns having their mother stay with them, and she went back and forth to Community Behavioral to get “help she needed for herself,” Frias said.
She had been at the hospital for about two weeks when on May 31, 2013, she was attacked by a male patient, Frias said. The man grabbed her by the neck, punched her, got her on the floor and kicked her in the back, she said.
According to the lawsuit, Archuleta’s back was broken. She was taken to Community Regional Medical Center, where she died less than two weeks later, on June 9, 2013. Archuleta’s death certificate lists her cause of death as cardiac arrest, but Frias said her mother did not have heart issues: “If the guy had never touched her, she would still be alive right now.”
If the guy had never touched her, she would still be alive right now.
Diane Frias, daughter of Gloria Archuleta
In the lawsuit, which was filed in June 2014, the family is seeking unspecified general, special and punitive damages and an award for Archuleta’s pre-death pain and suffering.
According to the lawsuit, Community Behavioral knew of the man’s past violent behavior and should have known there was a probability that he would attack a fellow resident. Community Behavioral had a duty to provide a safe environment and protect patients from violent residents, the lawsuit says.
The state Department of Public Health investigator says the hospital’s progress notes for the man made at 12:10 p.m. on May 31 indicated that the patient “appears unpredictable … due to the patient’s recent history of assaultive behavior from psychosis … and impulsivity.” The progress notes also say the man “has a high risk for recurrent behavior and serious injury to others.”
The state investigator found that Archuleta had been assaulted. Based on staff interviews, the clinical record and a review of administrative documents, the investigator said Community Behavioral had “failed to protect Patient 1’s right to be free from physical abuse and harm when she was assaulted by Patient 2. This failure caused injury to Patient 1 which required surgical intervention.” The state does not name patients for privacy reasons.
Frias said the hospital did not call police at the time of the attack, and she learned of it when she picked up her mother’s belongings after her death. Frias said she then called 911 from the hospital to report it.
According to the state report, Community Behavioral said Archuleta was sent by ambulance to Community Regional for evaluation and treatment, and the family was notified of the incident and of her transfer to the medical center.
Hospitals found by the state to have deficiencies must file plans of correction. Following the state investigation, Community Behavioral provided such a plan on May 23, 2014. The hospital said that to identify other patients having the potential for violence, all patients will be evaluated for it at the time of admission. A policy, called a “Violence Assessment,” was revised to reflect that patients will be assessed at each shift.
A hospital’s plan of correction is not an admission of liability or of agreement with the state’s findings.
Community Behavioral also said patients assessed on admission who score high for potential violence will be placed on “restriction to the unit for activities and meals,” and a care plan will be activated. The score from an assessment on each shift will be documented in the electronic health record, the hospital said.