Held against her will at Florida’s largest state mental hospital, and fearing that she was about to give birth, a 34-year-old woman became so frantic in her efforts to get medical care that she called 911, twice. “There’s nobody here that can help me right now, and I’m pregnant,” she said.
But when the emergency dispatcher asked to speak with a caregiver, she was told there was nothing to worry about: “This is a mental hospital,” a supervisor, Eddie McMillian said. “She says she’s going into labor; she’s not going into labor … Can’t send her nowhere right now.”
But she was, indeed, in labor. And her son was born hours later with profound brain damage. He remains on a ventilator, perhaps permanently.
In a just-released 88-page report by the inspector general of the Department of Children & Families — which operates Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee — state mental health administrators acknowledged the facility was poorly equipped to handle a high-risk pregnancy, and lacked policies to ensure the woman was well-cared for.
Though many details of the December tragedy were removed from the report, records show the mother was eventually airlifted to a Tallahassee hospital, after Gadsden County emergency workers arrived at the psychiatric hospital to check on her welfare.
“This thing has torn our family apart,” said Ken Wills, the baby’s grandfather. “It’s really been difficult; it’s been a strain. This has been a horrendous time for our entire family.
“It just seemed like people did not care — from the top down,” said Wills, 54, of Tallahassee. The Miami Herald is not naming Wills’ daughter, who suffers from schizophrenia, in order to protect her privacy.
Wills’ grandson, named Elon by his mother, is not expected to breathe, walk, or talk on his own, and likely will require lifelong complete medical care, Wills said. “He is not doing well. He is on life support.”
Said one of the family’s lawyers, Ben Crump of Tallahassee: “As long as he has life, there’s hope.”
The report, released Friday, faults hospital administrators and staff for several missteps:
• Though caregivers repeatedly told the Tallahassee woman she was not expected to give birth for another month or two, the hospital’s pregnancy records were badly inaccurate. Caregivers had repeatedly entered incorrect information in her chart, suggesting a shorter gestation period than was the case, and making it appear she was due to deliver in February.
Caregivers believed the woman was only 28 weeks’ pregnant, based on a host of notations in her medical file. She was “adamant,” however, that her doctor had told her she was 36 weeks’ pregnant, and, thus, capable of delivering at any time.
• Though the mother was suffering from pregnancy-induced hypertension, which can be life-threatening, nurses and other direct-care staff did not “consistently” document her vital signs, such as blood pressure. Though her blood pressure fluctuated greatly, caregivers did not always notify nurses or doctors when such readings should have raised a red flag.
• The woman was given psychiatric medication without first obtaining the consent of her father, whose permission was required since he was acting as her medical guardian.