Cries for Help -

Cries for Help

It must be terrifying to live with a mental illness that plunges you into a paralyzing state of paranoia or manic depression. You are in desperate need of high quality hands-on medical care and consistant medication.

What if you don't get the help you need?

Our investigation into St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center continues with a look at a series of attempted suicides at the troubled nursing home.

During the last year, St. Louis County Police responded to St. Elizabeth on eight calls involving attempted suicides, an extraordinarily high number for one home over such a short period of time, according to several experts who work with mentally ill people.

The suicide attempts happened at the same time St. Elizabeth was receiving repeated deficiencies on state surveys for not providing proper care for mentally ill residents, not following physicians orders and consistantly giving patients the wrong medicine.

On May 9, a forty-four year old woman used a razor blade to slice the right side of her neck. The resident's roomate called for help. Nurses found the victim "bleeding profusely" on the floor. She begged them to "let me die."

In a note to her family, the woman wrote "Sorry mom I did not want to hurt you. All I can say is I tried my hardest and it did not work. Two more weeks in here is not worth it. The smell and the crazy people are just too much. I could not take anymore."

Paramedics took the woman to a hospital for evaluation.

On June 30, a twenty-two year old woman cut her wrists with a piece of broken glass when the staff refused to give her a cigarette. Investigators considered the wounds "superficial." The patient, who insisted she was angry and wasn't really trying to kill herself, was allowed to stay at St. Elizabeth.

On July 29, a thirty-nine year old woman tried to stab herself in the wrist with a piece of glass from a broken mirror in her room. A worker at St. Elizabeth told the investigating officer that "a worker earlier in the day had been told by the victim that she wanted to hurt herself."

Paramedics transported the woman to a hospital for evaluation. The officer wrote in his report that "the staff was not overly cooperative."

On October 16, a thirty-one year old woman slashed her wrists and neck and waited to bleed to death in a bathtub. She told police that she was depressed after breaking up with her boyfriend and pushed the call assist button for help. The woman claimed the nursing home staff didn't respond to her call. So, she took out the razor and tried to kill herself.

Paramedics took her to a hospital for evaluation.

Seventeen hours later, a twenty-four year old woman drank paint in an attempt to kill herself. The resident told police she had a long history of trying to kill herself.

Paramedics took her to a hospital for evaluation.

Five weeks ago, a forty-six year old man cut the inner portions of his forearms. The victim found an inch and a half long "twisted piece of metal...laying on the floor." The resident had "numerous lacerations."

The investigating officer asked the resident why he cut himself. The man told him that "the staff likes to see him in pain, so he cut himself."

Helen Minth, an advocate for people with mental illnesses, says the attempted suicides reflect the lack of training and quality of care at St. Elizabeth.

"One suicide attempt is a red flag," she told me. "Several suicide attempts is a red river of flags."

Based on repeated violations, the federal government recently stopped reimbursing St. Elizabeth for the cost of caring for Medicaid and Medicaire patients, prompting the home's owner to turn over management to Reliant Care Management LLC, a local nursing home owner and manager. Reliant also leases the home and has an option to buy it.

After striking that deal, Sheldon Wolfe, the President of SW Management, reached an agreement to buy another St. Louis nursing home, Beauvais Manor Healthcare & Rehab Center.

Mr. Wolfe was unavailable for comment.

Our investigation of St. Elizabeth revealed that St. Louis County police also responded to calls involving alleged sexual assault, assault, theft and abuse at the hands of staff and residents.

But the biggest issue for many residents was systemic failure, a breakdown of critical communication, actions and accountability that left many residents at risk, especially people with mental illnesses.

"It's a very dangerous combination," Mrs. Minth told me.

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