After three months of hospitalization for schizophrenia, a 29-year old New Jersey resident Michael Vecchio has passed away after facing starvation for thirty days. Consequently, his mother Beth is suing the facility,Greystone Park psychiatric Hospital in Parsippany. The suit, filed by the patient’s mother, accuses the facility of wrongful death and negligence.
According to the hospital staff, Michael refused to eat because he claimed that he was a “‘Zen master’ and like Gandhi, would not eat”. Michael’s family is asserting that the facility should have still provided Michael adequate care given the fact that he was actively psychotic and thereby incapable of making appropriate medical decisions for himself. Unfortunately, following the irrational demands of patients is often the case in many instances of neglectful care.
Vecchio’s death is only one example of the many cases of negligent care for mentally ill patients. For example, many poorly operated care facilities use the patient’s refusal of care as an excuse to not perform their job properly.
In the case of Vecchio’s trial, his family must be able to prove a wrongful death claim by asserting three key elements: duty, breach of duty, and causation.
- Duty is the term used to acknowledge one party’s legal or contractual obligation to another party. In the case of a wrongful death case, the accused party owes a legal duty of care to the decedent to “adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could reasonably harm others”. For example, in the case of Michael’s death, the hospital staff owes a legal duty to their patients to provide adequate care.
- The Breach of Duty occurs when one party breaches their duty of care to the other party. In this example, hospital staff breached their duty of care to Michael by neglecting to continue to make significant efforts to feed him when he refused nourishment.
- The third element required in a wrongful death case is Causation. Essentially, the court must be able to reasonably infer that the accused party’s breach of duty directly caused the death of the other party. For example, in the case of Michael’s death, it must be reasonably assumed that he would not have died if the hospital staff made a more steadfast effort to provide him with nourishment upon his refusal. This is legally defined as “proximate cause”.
Similar to many nursing home abuse cases, a wrongful death at a facility such as Greystone is often the result of a larger issue in long-term care centers. Alarmingly, statistics indicate that over 10,000 deaths have occurred at nursing homes due to malnutrition. As with bedsores, choking, and medication errors, the issue of malnutrition is often an issue that occurs due to inadequately staffed nursing homes and insufficient training.
The Department of Health in the United States holds nursing homes to a high standard, outlined in the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987. This provided many protections to patients and their families, including the ability to monitor and update the patient’s Care Plan. Nursing home facilities must be in compliance with these federal regulations in order to receive tax dollars from Medicare and Medicaid to fund operations.
Unfortunately, these regulations are often not enough. If you or loved one has suffered from wrongful death or nursing home abuse, contact the Aretsky Law Group P.C. in order to protect your family’s rights and ensure that you are properly compensated for any violations of patient rights that may have occurred to a family member at a long-term care center.