Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Suicide at hospital under investigation

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Tristate hospital faces internal and external investigations after a woman on suicide watch hanged herself in its psychiatric unit last week.

        Whether the hospital could have done anything to prevent the death may be among the conclusions of those investigations.

        On April 18, Robin Melton, a 40-year-old North College Hill widow, hanged herself at Mercy Franciscan Hospital-Mount Airy.

Perry and Robin Melton
        Relatives said Mrs. Melton was distraught over her husband's death in November, but her grief was aggravated because photos of her husband's body were among a series of unauthorized morgue pictures taken by Thomas Condon.

        Mrs. Melton first attempted suicide at home on April 16 with a drug overdose. A relative found her unconscious, a suicide note nearby, family members said.

        She was treated initially by the Mount Airy hospital's emergency department, then its critical-care unit. She was transferred to the behavioral care unit on April 17.

        Hospital officials have refused to comment about the case. However, the hospital's report to the state indicates Mrs. Melton was on a suicide watch and was being checked by staff every 15 minutes.

        According to the hospital's report, filed with the Ohio Department of Mental Health, Mrs. Melton hanged herself by looping a bedsheet around her neck and tying it to a bed rail.

        Suicides in hospitals are rare. The state mental-health department receives only one or two such reports a year, said spokesman Sam Hibbs.

        Psychiatric units are required to be designed to make it difficult for patients to hang themselves.

        For example, hospital psychiatric rooms are built to have coat hooks and towel racks that pull away from the wall if any heavy weight is applied.

        Now a flurry of reviews and investigations has begun:

        • The Ohio Department of Mental Health received a “major unusual incident report” from the hospital and plans a site visit, said spokesman Sam Hibbs.

        • The matter also was referred to Health Care Financing Administration, the agency that runs Medicare. HCFA has not decided whether to investigate further.

        • The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Organizations requires the hospital complete a “root cause analysis” report within 45 days, said spokeswoman Charlene Hill.

        Should any of these reports identify a serious lapse in care, the hospital could lose its state license, its national accreditation or its ability to bill for Medicare services. Such sanctions are rare, though; usually a hospital gets the chance to correct any problems uncovered.

       Rebecca Billman contributed to this report.


Tuesday story: Suicide follows morgue photos

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