Women allege St. E's falsely imprisoned them

Posted at 6:54 PM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-05 00:58:22-05

BURLINGTON, Ky. -- Two women allege St. Elizabeth Medical Center falsely imprisoned them on involuntary psychiatric holds, according to lawsuits they filed in Boone County Circuit Court.

In one of the cases, the plaintiff alleges St. Elizabeth's actions made her lose her job.

The more recent lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Shelly Whitehead's attorney, alleging:

  • Whitehead did not meet the criteria for involuntarily hospitalization as outlined in Kentucky law;
  • she was not given a mental health assessment by a trained medical professional;
  • St. Elizabeth failed to ensure her rights as a patient; and
  • she was falsely imprisoned.

According to her complaint, Whitehead was a St. Elizabeth employee and took personal time from work in July after several stressful incidents.

Whitehead took her daughter to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth Edgewood on July 8, her lawsuit states, so the daughter could be evaluated for depression and suicidal thoughts. Whitehead admits she was upset as she sat by the daughter's bed, "as any parent having to watch their child deal with such issues would." But, her lawsuit says, social worker Karen Thompson told Whitehead she was being involuntarily committed, too, and she was led to a locked-off room.

Sheryl List, a nurse, noted Whitehead wasn't showing any signs of suicide or threatening to hurt herself, the lawsuit states; but, according to the lawsuit, Thompson said Whitehead told her that Whitehead admitted to telling her daughter she was having suicidal thoughts, which is why the daughter ended up at the hospital -- something Whitehead denies having told Thompson.

Instead, Whitehead alleges she told Thompson that she said to her daughter "'sometimes I think it would be better if I were not here' referring to her problems at work."

According to the lawsuit, Thompson recommended Whitehead be admitted to the Behavioral Health Unit at St. Elizabeth Florence -- but Whitehead said she wasn't given any other options. Thompson also contacted Whitehead's psychiatrist and noted "he expressed 'strong agreement'" for her hospitalization, according to the lawsuit; but Whitehead alleges her psychiatrist told her that he was simply told she was being admitted.

Whitehead's lawsuit also contends Eric Richardson, a doctor with St. Elizabeth, noted in her chart that she "told him, personally, that [she] had expressed to her daughter that she was very depressed about her employment and was thinking about killing herself." Richardson entered an order for Whitehead's involuntary hospitalization, the lawsuit alleges, and noted that another doctor, Rodney Vivian, was admitting her for treatment at St. Elizabeth Florence's Behavioral Health Unit.

Whitehead alleges she didn't even see or speak with Richardson for evaluation or treatment during her visit, and that she didn't speak with Vivian until the next afternoon, when she was being discharged -- at which point he told her "'he did not know why I was there.'"

Whitehead also alleges Vivian didn't electronically sign his request for her admission to St. Elizabeth Florence until nearly two weeks later.

In fact, Whitehead says she didn't receive any kind of mental health assessment until nearly two hours after she was told she was being involuntarily admitted -- and her lawsuit alleges the assessment was done by Thompson, who is not a licensed doctor.

After an ambulance took her from the Edgewood hospital to the Florence hospital early the next morning, Whitehead says she refused to sign documents supporting her involuntary commitment.

At the Florence hospital, a nurse, Carolyn Griffin, noted that Whitehead was "not a danger to herself or others," the lawsuit states, and that Whitehead's "mood is inconsistent" with a state of illness -- but less than 20 minutes later, Griffin noted that Whitehead "expressed suicidal ideation without plan but that [Whitehead] denied" thinking of suicide or harming herself.

Around the same time, Vivian signed a treatment plan -- without ever seeing Whitehead, she alleges.

About a half-hour later, a licensed nurse practitioner, Josephine Owens, noted Whitehead was at extremely low risk of suicide and that Whitehead never agreed with being involuntarily admitted, according to the lawsuit.

Whitehead says she didn't see a doctor, Vivian, until about noon July 9, at which point he noted she was being released at her own request.

Nearly two hours later, a social worker, Beth Randazzo, noted she met with Whitehead, according to her lawsuit; Whitehead says she never met with Randazzo.

Whitehead's lawsuit alleges her "entire medical record is inconsistently documented and there are substantial inconsistencies throughout. Dr. Vivian's discharge notes indicate that [she] has no family history of mental illness which is directly inconsistent with Karen Thompson's notes."

"One record that said that she was showing mental issues, and then 15 minutes later, another person says she's showing tendencies and problems with mental health issues and she wants to go home," her attorney, Shane Sidebottom said. "And then someone else would come in and say she's got mental issues, and then finally a doctor came in and said there's no reason for you to be here. There's just so many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, that I don't think they knew what they were cooking."

Similar Complaint From Another Woman

Patsy Hensley also alleges in a separate lawsuit that St. Elizabeth falsely imprisoned her, involuntarily committing her to its psychiatric unit.

And, Hensley says, she lost her job because of what a social worker did.

According to her lawsuit, Hensley went to St. Elizabeth's emergency room on Sept. 9, 2014 because she was suffering retaliation at work after she'd complained about harassment.

She told ER staff she was having chest pains and stress at work, the lawsuit alleges, but no assessment indicated she was a danger to herself or others.

Then, she alleges, a patient care coordinator, Robin McGee, consulted with another person not named in medical records and was set up to do a "telepsych evaluation" with a social worker only identified as "Mike." Hensley alleges she didn't consent to the evaluation, but instead "was told she 'had to' speak with a Social Worker due to her history of depression."

No details of the "telepsych evaluation" are in her medical records, her lawsuit states.

A few minutes after the evaluation, a nurse, Karen Dickerson, directed a hospital registrar to complete Hensley's admission to the psychiatric unit. There's no record of what medical treatment, if any, Dickerson provided to Hensley, her lawsuit states.

About a half-hour later, a social worker, John Eason, noted Hensley was alert, calm and cooperative, but said nothing about her being a danger to herself and others. He then noted in her chart that her admission to the psychiatric unit "was 'advised' by 'patient logistics' and 'recommended' by Psychiatrist Anthony Alvarez." Eason also noted -- falsely, Hensley alleges -- that she reported hearing her dead sister calling "help me Patty" and "would like to punch her supervisors and other managers, and feared she could slam someone in the head and wouldn't stop."

Hensley says in her lawsuit she told Eason she sometimes dreamt about her sister and "'sometimes felt like punching'" the coworker who harassed her.

Shortly before noon, according to the lawsuit, Eason noted he consulted with a care coordination supervisor at St. Elizabeth, Wendie Parrot-Morgan, about a duty to warn -- in which a psychological professional alerts possible victims to what's believed to be an imminent danger -- but didn't note any details about their discussion. Then, Eason called the human resources director at Hensley's workplace and told her Hensley "made 'threats to harm managers at the workplace,'" the lawsuit alleges.

Just after noon, Hensley alleges an emergency room doctor, Timothy Love, falsely suggested she admitted to having hallucinations and homicidal thoughts, according to the lawsuit.

She says a security guard escorted her to the psychiatric unit, where she asked to leave. A registered nurse, Robert Richter, told her she had to speak to a psychiatrist before leaving, her lawsuit alleges, and she was forced to stay there until the next day.

On Sept. 10, she says she was told her doctor was switched from Alvarez to Nelson Tauro; after she met with Tauro, her lawsuit states, she was immediately discharged. Tauro noted Hensley "'did not appear to have signs of serious mental illness... No impulsive behavior was noted.'"

She got a medical excuse from Tauro, her lawsuit states; but when she called her workplace to tell them she'd be back on the job Sept. 11, they told her she was fired "because St. Elizabeth had reported she threatened management."

Hensley's lawsuit alleges her involuntary psychiatric commitment document falsely indicated she'd been examined by Alvarez before her involuntary commitment.

In addition to the allegation of false imprisonment, Hensley is also suing for defamation because of what she alleges Eason told her employer.

Both women have requested a jury hear their cases and are seeking damages and attorneys' fees.

St. Elizabeth spokesman Guy Karrick released a statement, simply stating the hospital system could not comment on an active lawsuit, "nor would we ever comment about anyone who might be or have been our patient without their express authorization. We place a high value on all our patients' health and privacy."

St. Elizabeth is in the process of merging all its behavioral health beds into one facility in Covington, with nonprofit NorthKey and a for-profit business out of New Jersey after receiving approval from the state.