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Family of man who committed suicide sues Waterbury Hospital

RA | REP-AM.COM - Republican American

February 19, 2020

James Filgate
James Filgate

WATERBURY – The family of a man who committed suicide at Waterbury Hospital has filed suit against the hospital, its parent company and the doctors who treated him. The suit, which asks for an unspecified amount in damages, claims the hospital was negligent in the treatment of James Filgate, a 65-year-old Woodbury man who was found hanging by his belt in a hospital bathroom last year.

“The family felt it was important to file this lawsuit to hold Waterbury Hospital accountable for their lapses in care,” said Kathleen Nastri, partner at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder who is representing Filgate’s family. “There are a lot of unanswered questions in this case.”

Filgate’s death last spring triggered an investigation by federal inspectors who found a situation of “immediate jeopardy” at the hospital, the term used when a hospital places patients at risk of serious harm and injury or death.

Waterbury Hospital resolved the conditions and returned into compliance before having its accreditation revoked. However, the incident contributed to a state Department of Public Health decision to extend oversight of the hospital through early 2021.

The suit against the hospital, its parent company and two doctors who allegedly provided care to Filgate – Dr. Joseph Podolski and Dr. Saad Qadwai – was filed on Feb. 10 in Waterbury Superior Court.

The hospital declined to address the allegations on the phone or answer specific questions via email. A spokeswoman for the hospital, Laursha Xhihani, emailed a statement on Wednesday.

Waterbury Hospital
A lawsuit alleging Waterbury Hospital is at fault for a patient’s death last spring has been filed. Republican-American Archives

“Waterbury Hospital takes patient safety very seriously and we are committed to continuing to work closely with our regulators, our physicians and our staff with the goal of providing the safest care possible to our patients,” it read. “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

Filgate was admitted to the hospital on March 23 due to suicidal thoughts, according to the suit and police reports. He was held in the emergency room for a couple of days, then was transferred to the psychiatric ward, which is referred to as “Pomeroy 8” in the suit.

Included in the lawsuit is a letter authored by a board-certified doctor who claimed to have reviewed the treatment Filgate received at the hospital. That review was necessary under a state law that requires a plaintiff who sues a health care provider to perform a “reasonable inquiry” to determine if there are grounds to believe the provider was negligent in a person’s care or treatment.

While in the emergency room, Filgate said he had “lost everything” and felt “safe [only] when I am sleeping” and had felt “overwhelmed” by recent losses, including the foreclosure of his home and financial instability, according to that letter. He was noted to have a history of prior suicide attempts and had a plan to kill himself using pills, a rope, knife or a gun from a friend, according to the letter.

“His death was entirely avoidable,” Nastri said. “He was not someone who had a long history of mental illness, he didn’t have a long history of depression. He had things going on in his life that made his life seem difficult at the time, but he recognized it and reached out for help.”

The suit alleges that Filgate was left on a stretcher in the emergency department for more than 48 hours before he was admitted into the behavioral health unit and diagnosed with major depression.

According to the suit, Donald Edwardson, a psychiatrist involved in Filgate’s care, noted that Filgate said he felt “inherently less safe” on a medical floor. But Edwardson noted “there continues to be a serious risk of suicide and (Filgate) will need sitters on medicine service.”A sitter refers to a staff member assigned to sit at all times within arm’s length of a suicidal patient to prevent the patient from harming themselves.

When Filgate was transferred to the medical floor on March 27, his belongings, including his belt, were returned to him, the suit alleges.

On March 28, social worker Cristina Lima-Padin noted, according to the suit, that Filgate “has made very specific comments of how he will hurt self and has tried to hang self.”

That same day, Podolski discontinued the one-to-one observation, according to the suit. Nastri said it is unclear why the continuous observation was ended.

“What we learned as we were looking into this case is that Waterbury Hospital was purchased by a for-profit corporation based in Los Angeles that has hospitals around the country,” Nastri said. “As soon as you inject that for-profit motive into healthcare, you are going to force the providers to make decisions between providing the care that’s necessary, versus spending money to take care of the patients. What I suspect is there’s an element of that happening here.”

Records reviewed by doctors on behalf of Filgate’s estate found that Filgate was at the hospital on March 23 for evaluation of depression and “suicidal ideation.”

By March 25, Filgate had been diagnosed as anemic and was admitted voluntarily to the hospital’s behavioral health unit. Qadwai noted that Filgate was “suicidal,” among other issues. Filgate was transferred to an internal medicine unit to receive injections of iron to treat the anemia, according to the suit.

By March 28, Filgate was no longer being watched by a sitter, the doctor found. He hanged himself on March 28 and by March 31, he was pronounced dead.

Qadwai was negligent for recommending Filgate’s transfer to internal medicine because his anemia didn’t warrant iron injections and his risk of suicide was a “greater threat to his health than iron-deficiency anemia,” the doctor who reviewed Filgate’s records concluded.

The iron injections also were administered inappropriately, as Filgate should have received the doses over a longer span of time, according to the review.

A hospital administrator also reviewed the records, concluding the hospital was negligent in that it should have had facilities in its behavioral health unit to deal with minor medical procedures such as iron infusions. The standard of care required the hospital to have, and enforce, a policy to prevent personal belongings – such as a belt – from being returned to a suicidal patient, that review found.

The hospital also failed to implement or enforce a policy that would have allowed the nursing staff to “independently” request one-on-one supervision of a patient, if they have concerns about patient safety, the administrator found.

“Nursing staff remained so concerned about Mr. Filgate’s safety, however, that they moved him to a room closer to the nursing station and refused Mr.Filgate’s requests to take a shower,” the letter states.

Another review by an unnamed psychiatrist concluded that the hospital, as well as Podolski, were negligent, according to a letter included in the suit.

“To discontinue the (one-on-one) sitter, the standard of care required Dr. Podolski to thoroughly examine Dr. Filgate for ongoing suicidality and clearly articulate why Mr. Filgate no longer constituted a suicide risk, which was identified by another treating psychiatrist less than one day earlier,” the review states. “This was not done in this case.”

A hearing date in connection with the suit has yet to be set.