Mom questions daughter's death at hospital

October 28, 2010 8:34:56 PM PDT
A mother is looking for answers in the death of her daughter who was on suicide watch at a local hospital. She says how the hospital responded to her cry for help maybe the reason her daughter died. Her daughter was buried last spring. After months of grieving, she's believes her death was preventable and is blaming St. Joseph's Medical Center for the death.

When Vicky Daffern was looking for a treatment for her 35-year-old daughter, Lisa Barry, she quickly found St. Joseph's Hospital in downtown.

"She was suicidal," Daffern said. "They told me that St. Joseph was the best, so when I called and they said come on in."

Now she believes it was a big mistake.

"You never want to outlive your child," Daffern said.

According to the hospital bill, Barry was admitted on March 8; she was placed in the psychiatric ward, from where Daffern says she got a call four days later.

"She said she was going to kill herself," Daffern said.

The call threw Daffern into a panic. She immediately notified the hospital.

"I said, 'What are you going to do? How are you going to handle it?'" Daffern recalled. "'Well, we check the room every 15 minutes,' and I said, 'Is that good enough?' 'Well, we don't have the staff.'"

And it wasn't long before Barry followed through on her threat.

"(She) tied the sheet on doorknob of the bathroom, threw it over the door and made a noose and from there hung herself," Daffern said.

Barry spent three weeks on life support and eventually died on April 5. Her death certificate says she hanged herself in the psychiatric unit. Daffern is now suing.

"They should have had someone in the room with this individual, particularly after they received a direct threat, 'I am going to kill myself,'" said Daffern's attorney, Jason Gibson.

"Someone should have been watching them 24-7," Daffern said.

We checked the policies at other psychiatric units.

At both the Menniger Clinic and Harris County Psychiatric Hospital, suicide watch means a staff member is with the patient 24-7. In prison, inmates on suicide watch are monitored every 15 minutes.

St. Joseph's wouldn't tell us their policy and only sent an email saying, "We are not in a position to make a comment on this case right now."

Seven months later, Barry's death still hasn't sunk in. Her mother spends her days raising Barry's 10-year-old daughter and hoping for change.

"If it could happen to my daughter, it could happen to anybody's loved one in that hospital, and I wouldn't want that it happen again," Daffern said.

Daffern says she's filed a complaint with the hospital and was referred to a claims adjuster. Her lawsuit was filed Thursday. Again, the hospital refused to comment on the incident.


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