Patient starts fire, another wanders away from state facility - WSMV Channel 4

Patient starts fire, another wanders away from state mental institution

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found more than a dozen state employees disciplined in a three year period for failing to monitor patients at the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute.

In one case, a patient was left alone long enough to start a fire, and in another instance, a patient wandered a mile away from the institute, according to the disciplinary actions.

The Channel 4 I-Team also found three lawsuits pending against the institute from families of people who either died inside the facility or died after leaving.

One of those lawsuits concerns the death of David Keele, who died inside the institute in 2007.

Keele's family said in June 2007, when he was admitted to the institute, he was beyond their help.

"David was completely catatonic. He would not eat. He couldn't speak," said Lisa Crouch, Keele's sister.

Roughly a month later, Keele was dead.

"I thought how? And why?" Crouch asked.

The family was shocked, because Keele hadn't committed suicide.

The autopsy showed he had died from deep venous thrombosis of a leg.

According to the lawsuit, a blood clot ended Keele's life.

Keele's family said before being admitted to the institute, Keele was prescribed a blood a thinner to prevent blood clots, because of his catatonic state and obesity.

The lawsuits states the institute failed to administer an appropriate blood-thinning medication.

"If they had done that, my baby brother would still be with me," Crouch said.

What the family found out next angered them even more.

According to the lawsuit, Keele was often observed in the institute spending sixteen hours or more laying in bed or on the floor.

Keele's family said he dropped more than 30 pounds in 43 days.

It all added up, according to the complaint, to the institute staff failing to properly monitor David.

"He wasn't watched and observed like he should have been," Crouch said.

So when Crouch saw the Channel 4 I-Team's earlier investigation that showed patient Cody Skelton was left alone long enough to take his own life inside the institute, she was stunned.

"I fully understand what his family is going through because he should have never died in a mental facility either," Crouch said.

Neither the CEO of the institute nor the commissioner of the State Department of Mental Health would comment because of the pending litigation.

But in filing, the state's attorney wrote that Keele laid in bed a lot but not for 16 hours, that the family never informed the institute of any blood-thinner medication, and that he was constantly observed.

Keele and Skelton's cases are not the first time the Channel 4 I-Team had learned of accusations of patients being left alone.

In February, the I-Team uncovered cases of nurses disciplined, one for not checking on a patient for an hour and another for losing a patient within the institute.

At the time, we asked Doug Varney, the commissioner of the State Department of Mental Health, about those cases as he dodged our camera getting into an elevator.

"Our staff does a great job. These were isolated incidents," Varney said.

Yet the Channel 4 I-Team investigation found they were hardly isolated.

After requesting all disciplinary actions taken in over a three year period, we found 13 additional cases of employees at the institute cited for failing to monitor patients, many who needed constant attention.

Those disciplinary actions show one patient was left alone long enough to start a fire, another patient was unmonitored for four hours, and in one case, a patient was forgotten about and left the institute.

The disciplinary action shows that patient was found a mile away from the hospital at a gas station, with red scratches on his face.

The patient stated he felt like pulling his eyes out, according to the disciplinary action.

A state spokesman for the department of mental health said they cannot discuss any of the cases because of patient confidentiality.

Crouch said everything the Channel 4 I-Team has uncovered, from the deaths, to the patients being left unmonitored, to the photographs of sleeping employees, show there should be changes inside the institute.

"I do not want another family to have to go through what my family's gone through," Crouch said.

Keele's family is now suing, Skelton's family has hired an attorney, and the family of James Hodge, who died in the institute on April 19 after being beaten to death by another patient, told the I-team they are considering all options.

The Channel 4 I-Team has also obtained two additional lawsuits from families of former patients who died after leaving the facility.

The lawsuits claim the lack of care or negligence also resulted in their loved ones' deaths.

The Channel 4 I-Team will continue to investigate.

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