Agraphia Medical Tragicomedy


Blaming the wrong people

I read an article on CNN today about a woman who was shockingly left to die on the floor of a hospital waiting room. She was waiting for admission to the inpatient psych ward.

There are several things I find wrong with this story.

1) Inpatient psych patients are not typically ill, so psych nurses/docs don't expect people to die on their floor.

2) She had been waiting for 24 hours. They probably thought she was sleeping.

3) A security guard rolled his chair over and looked at her, then left. I find it hard to believe he's cold hearted enough to leave a dead woman on the floor, so I'll bet he thought she was sleeping.

4) Other patients "didn't react"... so they probably didn't think she was dead either. They probably thought she was sleeping. Or crazy. Or both. But if they thought she was dead, I'll bet someone would have called for help.

5) She was being committed, which means she's crazy. Crazy people do wierd things, like lie prone on the floor. I'd like to see how she was acting before she died, but we don't have that footage.

6) It is the fault of how we currently treat psychiatric disorders - not the individual hospital - that there are never any inpatient psych beds.

7) Mis-documentation usually means "lazy" or "didn't check". Doesn't mean it's acceptable, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's a coverup. See (1).

Now, I'm not trying to say that it's not a travesty that this poor woman died waiting for a hospital bed, but there are a few points to make. Most importantly, an inpatient psych bed is a very, very different beast from an inpatient hospital bed. In fact, psychiatrists as a general rule are terrified of "sick people" and will call in consults from other doctors simply to see if it's ok to give tylenol. Patients are not treated for medical conditions on a psych ward.

For that matter, patients are often left alone on a psych ward... because the purpose of being a psych inpatient is simply to do behavioral therapy and give antipsychotic drugs on a scheduled basis and wait for them to take effect... which can take months. If someone ever gets sick, they are shipped as fast as possible off to the Medicine ward, because (again) shrinks don't take care of medical conditions.

Because of the way we currently treat psych disorders, it's also not the fault of the hospital that there are never any beds on the psych ward. The ER would have called around every hospital in town to find out who had the shortest waiting list, and then sent her to wherever could fit her in.

Also, only certain hospitals accept the responsibility of "involuntary committment"... the VA, for example, is voluntary stay only. They can only fit so many patients into a psych ward, and they are always at capacity. You wait to be admitted until someone else is discharged, which is wholly dependant on how long it takes their drugs to kick in.

I find it frustrating, because the easy thing to do is to point the finger, especially because this woman was only 49. But without more information, I'm just not sure there is blame to be placed, aside from the misplaced, abject anger at the system itself.

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  1. You’re missing the point; I have to believe, willfully. She was in a *insert expletive* HOSPITAL. You don’t expect that people will ignore you there. You believe that people will take care of you.

    The system? The system is the hospital, and the people who work there.

  2. I’m going to retract the first paragraph of that comment. It was hasty and ill-advised. I do think it was the hospital’s fault, and the people who were involved, but the sarcasm in the first paragraph was not called for, and for that, I apologise.

  3. One of the reasons for all the outrage is that this is a horrible hospital. People are frequently mistreated here, beaten or given sedation for simply complaining about the conditions. All the homeless and without insurance are sent here. It has the absolute worst reputation among us locals. It’s upsetting to see the women die at KCH but not many are surprised, and people are using this to hopefully initiate change.

  4. Ah, now that’s a different story. I made my comments assuming that this was just sensationalized by the media. Glad to hear a local opinion – thanks, Bran!

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