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Marquette Hospital Refused Treatment to Suicidal Inmate

Inmate petitioned to UP Health Systems Marquette for treatment; discharged while still suicidal after two hour stay with no mental health evaluation

Michigan Protection & Advocacy Service, Inc. (MPAS) brought a complaint against UP Health System Marquette, formerly Marquette General Hospital, for its failure to treat a suicidal inmate from Marquette County Jail in 2013. MPAS filed a lawsuit in the Western District Federal Court on March 18, 2015 alleging violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA).

The suit alleges that, despite being petitioned by a Marquette County Jail sergeant immediately after a suicide attempt, UP Health System's doctors only performed evaluations of the inmate's physical health and discharged him without performing any mental health evaluation. The inmate was sent back to the jail with instructions to monitor him until he was no longer suicidal. "We are concerned that the inmates in the Marquette County Jail are not able to access proper mental health services due to the perceived aggressive nature of incarcerated individuals," said MPAS attorney, Kyle Williams.

The inmate made a second attempt on his life in the following weeks, which lead to his eventual admission and treatment at UP Health System Marquette.

"It is frustrating for officers to try and get individuals the help they need and have those people returned to jail," said Captain Gregg Gustafson, Marquette County Jail Administrator. "Jails are not treatment centers or hospitals and jails do not have infirmaries. Individuals in crises require more staff and that impacts the safety and security of the entire facility.  Resources need to be made available for those inmates in our jails who may be having mental health issues," continued Gustafson.

The case is being brought under EMTALA, a federal statute establishing the requirement for most emergency rooms in the nation to treat or transfer an individual who presents with an emergency medical condition. While initially created to ensure the treatment of uninsured individuals with serious medical issues, EMTALA has expanded to ensure proper medical treatment for all individuals who present to emergency rooms with emergency medical conditions. The lawsuit alleges that, in discharging a presently suicidal individual, UP Health System Marquette failed to properly screen the inmate for an emergency medical condition, failed to stabilize the inmate's emergency medical condition and/or failed to properly transfer the inmate to a medical facility able to stabilize.

"It's unacceptable for someone to be denied treatment because of their status as a prisoner. Correctional officers are not trained nor do they have the proper educational background to diagnose and treat mental health issues. We need the hospital to step up and help people when they're sick, regardless of where they come from," Williams continued.

MPAS is currently awaiting a response to the allegations contained in the complaint and hopes to institute effective policy changes at UP Health System Marquette to adequately serve the mentally ill jail population in the area.

Williams concluded, "This case shows the standing need for mental health treatment facilities to work with county jails to treat mentally ill incarcerated individuals. County jails are not properly staffed to handle an inmate having a mental health breakdown and jails must rely on, and work with, mental health professionals to diagnose and treat mental health problems."

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Posted on:
April 17, 2015