Family Sues Hospital Over Suicide

July 30,200 - Posted at: 11:59 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- The family of Troy Wayne Wallis, Jr., knew his general care doctor had prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressants to him, but they didn't think he'd ever commit suicide.

"This has been the awfulest year of my life," said his mother, Joan Wallis.

On June15, 2002, a friend found Wayne Wallis semiconscious in his apartment after he overdosed on pills.

His sister, Pam Moody, said, "Whenever I got there, I asked him, 'could I call mother.' He said, 'yes.'"

Moody and her mother then took Wallis to the emergency room at St. Bernard's Medical Center in Jonesboro. He asked to be admitted to St. Bernard's Behavioral Health in the early morning hours of the 16th. Later that morning Pam Moody and Joan Wallis visited Wayne.

"About 9 o'clock that night, I got a phone call telling me I needed to go to St. Bernard's. When I got there he was gone," explained Joan Wallis.

What the two women say they don't know is how their loved one, who was placed on suicide watch, was able to hang himself with a bed sheet inside of his room. An attorney has filed a lawsuit in hopes of getting answers.

Attorney Mark Steven Colucci said, "When you admit somebody and bring them into your hospital, you are saying to them: we are qualified; we are experienced; we will take care of your loved one."

The lawsuit states Wallis' family members found an ink pen and a wire coat hanger inside of his room, which were later removed. Pam Moody was also worried about the shower head in the bathroom.

St. Bernard's Behavioral Health administrators declined to beinterview, but they did issue a written statement:

"St. Bernard's Behavioral Health is obligated by federal and state law to protect patient confidentiality. Therefore, we are unable to comment. Over time, the legal system will allow St. Bernard's Behavioral Health an opportunity to fully respond to the allegations."

Colucci said he's representing Julia Townsend Veteto's family in another lawsuit against St. Bernard's Behavioral Health. In February 2001, Veteto had told her husband she had thoughts of committing suicide. He took her to the psychiatric hospital, but her family said no healthcare workers admitted her. Less than 20 hours later, Veteto committed suicide.

Wallis' family members hope their lawsuit will help prevent mentally ill patients from ending their lives decades short like their loved one did: dead at 37 years of age.