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Legal claim filed over NYC psych ward death

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

NEW YORK -- The daughter of a woman who died unnoticed on the floor of a hospital psychiatric unit called Tuesday for criminal prosecution of the workers who did nothing to help her.

"What I want is justice," Tecia Harrison said, hours after her family notified the hospital, the city and the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation that they intend to file a $25 million lawsuit. "Whoever committed a criminal act should be held responsible."

Surveillance footage showed the death of Esmin Elizabeth Green, 49, who collapsed face-down on the floor of the Kings County Hospital Center's psychiatric emergency waiting room, where she had been for nearly 24 hours.

She was largely ignored for about an hour. Security guards and a member of the Brooklyn hospital's staff appear to notice her prone body at least three times without making any visible efforts to see if she needed help.

By the time a woman from the medical staff approached her, nudging Green's body with her foot, the stricken patient was already dead.

Alan Aviles, president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which oversees Kings County Hospital, said in a statement that new staff, procedures and training since Green's death June 19 would likely be supplemented by further reforms.

"We failed Esmin Green and believe her family deserves fair and just compensation," Aviles said. "HHC referred this matter to criminal enforcement and regulatory authorities on June 20. We have been cooperating and will continue to support any and all investigations."

The city Department of Investigation is examining the case with the cooperation of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said DOI spokeswoman Dianne Struzzi. The Brooklyn district attorney's office is also involved, and will decide whether to prosecute, Struzzi said. The medical examiner's office has performed an autopsy and is doing further tests to determine the cause of death.

At 31, Harrison is the eldest of the six children Green left behind in Jamaica when she moved to the United States in 2000 to find work. Now, Harrison is left with questions about how her mother ended up involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward -- falling ill and dying hundreds of miles from her immediate family and with no one by her side.

"It was heartbreaking," Harrison said of watching the video. "Something inside of me died right there with my mom."

The family's lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, accused the hospital staff of attempting to cover up neglect. In patient records marked 6 a.m. and 6:20 a.m., when surveillance footage shows Green on the floor, hospital staff wrote instead that she was "awake, up and about" or sitting quietly.

Six people were fired after her death in the psychiatric unit, which had already been a subject of complaints and lawsuits by advocates for the mentally ill. The Department of Justice began investigating allegations of patient mistreatment at the hospital earlier this year.


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