Articles Posted in Psychiatrist/Psychologist Malpractice

med mal 3Our Atlanta psychiatrist malpractice attorney recently read an alarming story about a former University of Florida psychiatry professor forced to give up his Florida medical licence last June. This case before the Board of Medicine concerned his involvement in the death of a patient, Alice Tomlinson, in 2010. The ruling also required that he agree to never reapply for a Florida medical license. The psychiatrist, Dr. Harold E. Smith, had already had his medical license suspended or revoked in several states, including Georgia, Arkansas, Virginia, and Tennessee. He has had several disciplinary actions brought against him over a span of more than 20 years.

The case of Dr. Smith demonstrates just how worrying it can be when doctors can avoid the damage of malpractice claims and bad professional conduct by moving between states, each of which has its own licensing structure. In addition to the state actions against him, Dr. Smith had also been subject to disciplinary action by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in 2011 that led to the revocation of his certificate to prescribe controlled substances due to his submitting false information. These disciplinary actions, which were all due to his problems with drugs and alcohol, ought to have warned of continuing misconduct on the part of Dr. Smith.

The University of Florida Health Shands Hospital hired Dr. Smith one year ago as an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. He also treated patients with alcohol and drug addiction at the Florida Recovery Center. At the time of his hiring, he already faced the complaint over Ms. Tomlinson’s death, who had been prescribed Oxycontin despite showing signs of oversedation. She was discovered on the floor, unresponsive, and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. At the time of Ms. Tomlinson’s death, Dr. Smith had two prior actions against him in Florida, one was for improperly prescribing Oxycontin to family members, the other was for using crack cocaine and opioids. The University of Florida has refused to discuss what they knew about Dr. Smith’s problems with drug and alcohol abuse prior to his hiring. Dr. Smith was put on unpaid leave in December, and then resigned in May.

Our Atlanta medical malpractice lawyers read about a sad case of an elderly couple failed by the psychiatric care system at a Georgia hospital. The tragic, and possibly avoidable, case involves Alex Blatt, a 70 year old who killed his wife of 40 years, Eva Blatt, in a psychotic episode in 2012.

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Mr. Blatt went to a Kaiser facility in November 2011 with psychosis, paranoia, delusions, impaired judgment, physical aggression, loose association, and racing thoughts. Staff noticed he was specifically worried about his wife. He was committed to Peachford psychiatric hospital from November 28 to December 13. During his stay, he was noted to be erratic and combative with staff. At some points he refused to remain clothed. A doctor, not party to the lawsuit, recommended a CT scan for Mr. Blatt, which was never performed. He remained agitated and easily confused. When Mrs. Blatt was told he would be discharged, she called the psychiatric hospital and shared her fears about his mental state due to the fact that he was still saying crazy things. The hospital assured her that he would not be released if he was a danger. The next day they released him with several prescriptions. A week later, he went to a Kaiser facility again because of pain in his feet and one of his prescriptions was reduced. That prescription, for Haldol, was cancelled by a Kaiser doctor, Dr. Phu Thai, in January 2012, as was another drug, and neither were replaced with another medication. In February, another doctor, Dr. Rick Stallings, stated no follow up was needed for three months for Mr. Blatt. Then on March 19, 2012, Mr. Blatt had a psychotic episode and killed Mrs. Blatt and tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists. He is currently in Gwinnett County Jail for murder awaiting his trial.

Mr. Blatt and his brother-in-law, Murray Deutsch, have filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia, Inc, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc, the Southeast Permanente Medical Group, Inc, and the two doctors, Dr. Phu Thai and Dr. Stallings. They claim Mr. Blatt had the fatal psychotic episode due to the lack of follow up and lack of replacement medicine for his condition. The lawsuit claims, “Mr. Blatt now suffers from severe guilt, anguish, and emotional pain and suffering as a result of his actions while in a severely psychotic state.” Mr. Blatt and Mr. Deutsch are seeking punitive damages from a jury trial on their medical malpractice case.

Both the public and the medical community are becoming more aware that there is an increased risk of homicide and suicide amongst users of antidepressant drugs (known in the medical community as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs). According to Dr. Richard Kapit, a retired scientist for the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), “there is hard data that SSRIs cause mania and manic episodes [that] are frequently accompanied by violence.”

As reported in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Georgia Supreme Court is allowing a medical malpractice lawsuit to proceed in the case of a mentally ill man, Victor Bruscato, who killed his mother, Lyn Bruscato, shortly after discontinuing his psychiatric medications. Victor’s father, Vito Bruscato, alleges that the homicide was the result of a psychiatrist improperly taking Victor off of two powerful SSRIs, Zyprexa and Luvox, shortly before Lyn was killed.

As Victor’s guardian, Vito filed a medical malpractice suit, on his son’s behalf, against the psychiatrist who had treated Victor at a Gwinnett County community health center. According to court records, the doctor had taken Victor off of the drugs to ensure that the drugs were not giving him a life-threatening, neurological disorder. However, two and a half weeks after being taken off the drugs, Victor experienced nightmares and panic attacks and reported hearing voices telling him to kill. A day before killing his mother, Victor was seen rocking back and forth on his bed, pleading for the voices in his head to leave him alone. On August 15, 2002, Victor crushed his mother’s head with a battery charger and then stabbed her 72 times at the family’s Norcross home.

Dr. Kapit, who reviewed Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft in the late 1980s, said that he always suspected that SSRIs could cause people to become suicidal or homicidal. “Now we have hard data to back up what everyone sort of believed, that these drugs are capable of causing manic states,” he said.

Dr. Peter R. Breggin, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who has testified before Congress regarding antidepressants and their role in increasing suicide, violence and mania in military personnel, authored a book detailing the dangers of improperly withdrawing from psychiatric drug use. “Most psychiatric drugs can cause withdrawal reactions, sometimes including life-threatening emotional and physical withdrawal problems. In short, it is not only dangerous to start taking psychiatric drugs, it can also be dangerous to stop them. Withdrawal from psychiatric drugs should be done carefully under experienced clinical supervision,” Dr. Breggin wrote.

Patients who end their psychiatric drug use should be aware of the dangers involved when they quickly stop taking their medications. Withdrawal symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

• Irritability
• Agitation
• Dizziness
• A Burning or Tingling Sensation
• Anxiety
• Confusion
• Headaches
• Insomnia
• Tiredness
• Hypomania
• Symptoms of Schizophrenia (such as hallucinations or delusions)
• Bipolar Disorder Symptoms (such as mania or depression)

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