A 14-year-old patient at a New York psychiatric center suffered cardiac arrest due to a severe case of constipation and bowel obstruction. The center transferred the girl to a university hospital. She died within 24-hours of the transfer. The psychiatric center responsible for her care is facing criticism from the state for its role in the girl’s death.
A report by New York’s Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs states the staff at the hospital failed to recognize the patient’s worsening symptoms. An investigation of the center found the following:
- Improper medication. A psychiatrist prescribed the girl a medication not recommended for child or teen use. There are some exceptions, but the state contends the prescribing physician followed proper protocol when he chose to prescribe the girl this medication. This medication is known for causing severe constipation.
- Lack of communication. The girl had a history of constipation. This medical history along with the fact that she was on a medication known to exacerbate the problem should have led to medical professionals checking on the girl for signs of constipation. The state alleges the center failed to check on the child and failed to communicate this need to those who were tasked with her care.
- Poor staffing. The state also claims the center failed to staff qualified personnel to oversee care at the center.
These findings have supported a lawsuit against the center. New York’s Office of Mental Health has stated that it uses this instance as an opportunity to revise its use of certain medications and increase the supervision provided at these centers.
The psychiatrist responsible for the prescription could become the subject of a more thorough investigation. Physicians that find themselves the subject of such allegations have options. A physician can proactively protect his or her license by seeking legal counsel.