Suicide inquiry faults UCI’s psychiatric unit — (The Orange County Register)

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The Orange County Register

By CHRIS KNAP

State health regulators criticize the facility’s monitoring and choice of medications for the 18-year-old man.

UCI’s psychiatric hospital did not adequately monitor, carefully medicate or provide a safe room for a suicidal 18-year-old patient who hanged himself with a bed sheet 10 days before Christmas, state regulators said Thursday.

The death was the first in the history of UCI’s Neuropsychiatric Unit and comes on top of problems that shut down the hospital’s liver-transplant program.

In a 16-page Statement of Deficiencies, the Department of Health Services faulted UCI for not observing the patient closely enough after prescribing large doses of Zoloft, an antidepressant, and Strattera, an attention enhancer, both of which bear a warning for suicidal behaviors.

Regulators questioned whether Strattera was even appropriate for the patient, who had not been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder.

The state also said the patient’s bathroom should have had breakaway towel bars and noted that, three months after the death, it was still possible for a suicidal patient to hang himself or herself at UCI using the shower head.

UCI officials have 10 days to respond with a plan of corrections but issued this statement Thursday:

“This was a terrible tragedy and we are deeply saddened. UCI Medical Center is strongly committed to providing quality patient care and continuously improving its programs.”

The health department’s report and an investigation by the Orange County coroner depict a troubled young man who had repeatedly tried to commit suicide in the past.

The man, who is not being named by The Register, was admitted to UCI on Oct. 30 after slashing his forearms. He had two previous admissions for slashing his wrists.

At first, medical personnel checked on him every 15 minutes. But in early December, the checks were reduced to every 30 minutes.

On Dec. 14, an attendant checked the man’s room at 7:45 p.m. and saw the patient was out of bed. He knocked on the bathroom door and heard sounds as if the patient were on the toilet.

The attendant told regulators he returned five minutes later, knocked on the door and asked “Are you OK?” and heard no response.

The attendant then went to find a bathroom key, which took “a few minutes.”

When the door was finally opened, the man was found dead on the floor with a sheet tied around his neck and the towel rack.

CONTACT US: Contact the writer at 796-2240 or cknap@ocregister.com