- Posted October 19, 2012 by
Fargo, North Dakota
Exposing Malpractice in Mental Health Facilities!
This article is over a year in the making. Why you might ask? Simple, it is something very personal and painful; but the truth needs to be exposed! In June of 2011 I brought my wife to Prairie St. John’s facility in Fargo, ND. to be evaluated for depression. The back story is long, so if you would like to read it and have a deeper understanding of what happened to her you can do so on the My Story section of her blog (The Messy Art of Living), it is truly horrible what happened, grab some tissues. Needless to say, I was concerned about her and brought her to a place that was supposed to help her and protect her from herself. This did not happen, and as I have seen, it seems to be a common occurrence at these facilities. Over and over again I hear stories about families torn apart or people’s lives being adversely affected by a portion of the medical industry that is not held accountable for malpractice. Why is this?
I believe it is a mix of two things. First, there is a stigma around mental illness; “oh those people are crazy, why else would they be in a facility”. To this day, people still hide the fact that they suffer from these disorders because of the way society views them, and the prejudice around them. The fact is this, the majority of people that spend a week or two at these facilities are not people that are forever lost. In fact they are wives, mothers, husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters; people from all walks of life, from the drive thru worker to the CEO of a fortune 500.
Second, medicine nowadays is about making money (profit) and what better of a way to make a profit than to exploit a portion of society that is vulnerable. If you keep patients unstable and further disrupt their life, you will be able to keep them in your care and continue to make money. The doctors and facilities have an automatic get out of jail free card; they just simply claim that the patient’s disorder caused the issue and that they are not responsible. This is accepted by society because of the veil of secrecy and misinformation around mental illness. Take our story for instance.
In June of 2011 I brought my wife to Prairie St. John’s facility in Fargo, North Dakota to be evaluated for depression, and to see if we could get her into their outpatient program for treatment. The attendant that evaluated her was not a doctor, just someone that asks a set of questions and gathers the answers. After the interview he called the doctor to brief them on the answers. He came back and told us that my wife needed to be admitted and that if she did not “voluntarily” sign in, they would put her on a 72 hour hold, and force her into the facility as she was deemed mentally incompetent and a danger to herself. This is where our nightmare began. I begged them to allow me to bring her home and that I would be responsible for her and would commit to bringing her to outpatient everyday. I even had a meeting with the CEO Greg LaFrancois who promised me that my wife would be well taken care of and I would be kept informed of her condition, her treatment and her progress. Greg told me they had years of experience treating these disorders.
The facility diagnosed my wife as Bipolar 1 rapid cycling. They reached this diagnosis without any testing, but by having a doctor meet with her the day she was admitted and off of her informing them that she was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was 12. The issue here is that nothing was confirmed with a test. Imagine going to the hospital and telling them that you have a lump and that it is cancer and without any testing the doctors immediately put you on heavy amounts of Chemo. In the medical industry this would be malpractice. This is not the case in mental health. What the hospital missed by not administering a simple industry test like the “Millon Personality Test” (MCMI) is that she also suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder with Depressive Personality Traits, Dependent Personality Features and PTSD. So the normal mixture of medications given to someone with Bipolar would not work and in fact some of them like Ativan would make her much worse. The list of medications that LaWana M. Burtnett, M.D. and Natalya Bronson, M.D. put her on during her months in treatment was huge(Tramadol 100mg, Zoloft 50mg, Ativan 1mg prn x3 daily, Ambien cr 12.5mg, Tegretol 300mg, Nurontin 100mg, Seroquel 100mg, Prozosin 1mg, chlorpromazine 10 mg x2 daily, Tegretol), and mixed with the behavior the facility, doctors, and counselors allowed were incredibly irresponsible at best, but in my opinion a classic case of neglect and mental health malpractice.
Within 5 days of being checked into their facility and loaded up on medications, my wife removed me from her contact information so I could no longer get updates on her or be told when she was being discharged. One day later the facility discharged her to her own accord knowing she was not returning home to her family and in a obvious emotionally dis-regulated and highly manic state. The counselors advised her that she was under too much stress from her family (we have 4 children) and the small business she owned, she went days without even talking to me or her children. When I called CEO Greg LaFrancois to ask him how this was considered progress, he told me that there is no way his facility could have caused such a change in her personality in such a short period of time and that I should have a conversation with my wife. Obviously Greg LaFrancois has a lot to learn about the drugs his facility dispenses and how these medications can affect people that suffer from specific disorders. Three months of inpatient / outpatient treatment, over medication, irresponsible advice and treatment followed; causing more damage to my wife and our family then could ever have been imagined.
When my wife inquired with lawyers in North Dakota she was pretty much ignored or told, good luck, in this state you have no case. When she tried to turn to the local news to find someone to listen to her story, it was meet with no response. A simple Google search shows that multiple people have complained about the facility and the over medication, yet they are allowed to continue with no repercussions. This is true if you look into other facilities as well.The fact is that the facility and the doctors that were supposed to take care of her (because she was mentally incompetent) didn’t do that; instead they allowed her to make poor decisions in and out of the facility, but all while under their care.
The fact that this case has been ignored shows that this country still has a long way to go to protect those being treated for mental illness from malpractice and neglect. It’s as if this portion of medical field is 40 years behind when it comes to protecting the well being of the patient’s and holding the facilities and doctors responsible for malpractice. I truly believe that until a clear signal is sent to the facilities and the doctors, until society stands up and says no more, people and the families of people with mental illness will continue to suffer. Had this level negligence happened while treating a physical medical condition like cancer it would have been an open and shut case with lawyers clamoring to pick up the case and it would have received national media coverage, but this is mental illness and our society is just not ready yet!
What this facility did to my wife and my family is inexcusable. It has affected every aspect of our lives. My children have suffered, my wife has suffered, I have suffered, my career and our finances have all suffered as a result of their negligence. We live our life now day to day, picking up the pieces and rebuilding. We have left North Dakota and moved back to our home state of Texas to be near family and support.
I look forward to the day, when as a society we recognize that mental illness is a real medical condition and the individuals that suffer from it need to be treated and protected the same as other medical patients. One day, it just might be your family that suffers as a result of a field that is allowed to operate in such a manner.
About the Authors:
Tracy runs a blog called “The Messy Art of Living” dedicated to helping others with similar disorder by offering hope and inspiration. Tracy said “I could either let the horrible things that have happened in my life keep me down, or I could pick myself up and show others that no matter how bad things get, there is still hope. And that’s exactly what I am doing, giving hope!”
Tommy runs a blog called “You, Me, and BPD” offering resources and experiences to friends and family members of individuals suffering from these disorders. “I’m not a professional mental health worker and I’m not a doctor, but I have been involved with someone for the last 14 years that suffers from these disorders. I have and continue do so some things right and some things wrong, by sharing this, I would like to give others a bit of help and hope.”