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Medicare Threatens to Stop Federal Funding to Baptist Hospital East Following Patient Suicide

Medicare has threatened to stop federal funding to Baptist Hospital East following a patient’s suicide last month.    State inspectors concluded that Baptist Hospital “failed to assure this patient’s safety.”  The patient has only been identified as a Jeffersontown (a suburb of Louisville) man whose son had passed away and going through a divorce.
The citation stems from the hospital’s knowledge that the patient had expressed  a desire to drink himself to death and was depressed over his circumstances.  Even though two chaplains talked with the patient and concluded he was in a “critical and severe situation, the hosptial failed to place him in a psychiatric unit or under suicide watch.  The state determined that the hospital’s failure to include steps in its written care plan to address his psychiatric concerns was a violation of its duty to its patients and such conditions “pose an immediate and serious threat” to patients.

Baptist will probably not lose any funding; however, this may not be the end of the issue for Baptist.  

These violations could lead to civil liability if the family chooses to file a lawsuit.  Hospitals owe a duty to their patients to proivde appropriate treatment, including protecting a suicidal patient from him or herself.  If a hospital violates its own policies and procedures- or fails to act like a reasonable hospital would in the same situation- and an injury or death results, the hospital is responsible for the harm.  Because the patient was only 56 years old, he was probably still working.  This means the man’s estate can recover the reasonable value of what he would have earned over his lifetime (known as wrongful death) as well as a claim for pain and suffering (known as personal injury).  It is unclear from the article whether the man had any children under 18, but if he did then they would have a claim for the loss of love and affection of their father.  A child’s consortium claim is measured from the date of injury through the 18th birthday.  The child’s claim can be brought any time before his or her 19th birthday.  The wife also has a claim for loss of love and affection; however, it would likely be of very limited value for two reasons.  First, because they were already going through a divorce, it would be difficult to argue that there was any loss of love and affection.  Second, a spousal loss of consortium claim in Kentucky is limited to the time of injury until the time of death.  Here, that period of time would be only seconds or minutes.  Kentucky courts have held that a spousal consortium claim could not be brough in a case where the time between injury and death was only an hour.  Unless and until the law in Kentucky recognizes a spouse’s right to claim a loss for the loss of love and affection after the death, we are severly limited in the claims we can make.  That being said, this exact issue is going to be addressed by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2009.


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