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Deaths at Florida Hospital Prompt Investigation for Negligence

By Orlando Personal Injury Attorney on August 16, 2012

Three very troubling deaths at a privately run Florida hospital have prompted an investigation by state officials that revealed that many patients were being overmedicated and employees failed to alert officials about suspected abuse after a patient died in a bathtub of scalding water. The South Florida State Hospital in Broward County is operated by The GEO Group Inc., a company based in Boca Raton that is one of the world’s largest private operators of penitentiaries and detention centers.

Florida officials requested a full review of the hospital "in response to significant events in past several months," including the circumstances surrounding the three deaths. The South Florida State Hospital is a 355-bed facility that mostly cares for people who are mentally ill and are considered a threat to themselves or others. Many patients have committed crimes but are found to be not competent to stand trial and don’t need to be held in a high-security facility. GEO has countered claims of negligence and poor patient care, saying that the deaths of the three patients are not indicative of its standards and "high quality operation."

The hospital is one of the first privately-run civil psychiatric hospitals in the country and is one of four hospitals operated by GEO in Florida. The others are the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, which treats sex offenders, and mental health facilities in Indiantown and Florida City.

The three deaths that prompted the investigation occurred over two months in 2011. The first incident involved a male patient who was receiving very strong medication. He was found in June 2011 in a bathtub filled with scalding water with skin “sloughing” off his face. State officials determined that the man died because staff members failed to check on him every 15 minutes as outlined in state regulations. Staffers failed to notify authorities after this incident as required, and state officials believed that this is due to an attempted cover-up of poor care. Hospital officials did acknowledge "the possibility that a thirty-minute gap in observation of the person served in the bathtub might have contributed to his death."

That same month, a patient who had a history of suicide attempts died from injuries he suffered when he jumped from the roof of a building located off the hospital grounds. The 50-year-old victim had been admitted to the hospital the previous February, and staffers were warned to provide at least two trained staffers with him whenever he left hospital grounds due to his history of suicide attempts. Two staffers accompanied the patient that day, but one left to get the vehicle to return to the hospital, leaving only one staffer with the patient in violation of state regulations. When one staffer left, the patient bolted from the other and jumped to his death from the eighth story of the parking garage.

The third death occurred in August of that year when a female patient died from severe head trauma from an unknown blow to the head. A caregiver found the woman on the floor and laid her down on her bed. They returned later to check on the woman, but she was unresponsive and died shortly thereafter. Staffers stated that the woman had a history of falling and felt that this was an attempt to get attention.

These incidents of negligence could be grounds for wrongful death lawsuits brought by the victims’ families. When caregivers in any setting fail to provide an appropriate level of care, they can be held liable for damages. If someone in your family has died due to negligence and you want to learn more about your rights and legal options, call Orlando personal injury lawyer James O. Cunningham today at 800-425-2004. He has built a proven record of success in neglect and wrongful death cases over nearly four decades of practicing law. Call today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

James O. Cunningham

James O. CunninghamSince 1977, personal injury lawyer James Cunningham has provided effective legal advocacy to people who are injured through the negligent actions of another person or entity throughout the Central Florida area. He fights to obtain recoveries for his clients’ physical and emotional pain and suffering and pursues his clients’ personal injury cases with a commitment to excellence and impeccable preparation.

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