Mother blasts Arizona State Hospital over her son's death, plans to file a lawsuit

PHOENIX - The mother of a young man who died at the Arizona State Hospital is speaking out and demanding answers about what happened to her son.

The death of Christopher Paul Blackwell is a story that state government officials did not want you to see.

They tried to get Donna Baird, Chris Blackwell's mother, to stop us from telling it.

But Donna Baird said she wants the ABC15 Investigators to expose to the truth about why her son died.

She told us her son Christopher loved to help other people even in the face of significant physical and mental health challenges right from the time he was born.

"He was born without his pituitary gland," she said. "He was behind in growth so it was a lot of work with him. It was a lot of physical therapy and a lot of doctor appointments."

As a teenager, Chris began cutting -- using a knife or a razor to make shallow incisions on his arms or legs.

Later, he turned to swallowing dangerous objects. Donna said her son was not suicidal but he did those things as a way to relieve stress.

"He didn't know how to cope with stress," she said, "so Chris's coping skill was self-harming to ease up the pain he had up inside."

Chris was twice committed to the Arizona State Hospital, known as ASH, as a result of his self-destructive behavior.

"He was supposed to get treatment for that," Donna Baird told us.

The first time he was sent to the state mental hospital for treatment he was only a juvenile.

Then two years ago, he was committed as an adult.

Donna told us he called her every day, sometimes four or five times a day.

"The last time we talked, he asked if I could come down and I said I'll be down there for your party, your birthday party," she said.

But just two weeks before his 24th birthday, on September 9, Donna Baird got the kind of call every mother dreads.

"I got a call at eleven o'clock that evening, Monday evening and they said that Chris collapsed," she said.

Chris was taken from ASH to the Maricopa County Medical Center by ambulance.

Doctors worked feverishly to save his life, but Christopher Paul Blackwell died in the early morning hours the next day.

His mother held his birthday party at the cemetery.

"We did it at his grave site," Donna said. "Every day is a struggle, you know, I miss talking to him."

For eight months the ABC15 Investigators have been reporting on serious problems at the Arizona State Hospital -- the only taxpayer funded hospital solely for the treatment of patients with mental illness.

In a series of exclusive reports, we exposed how deep cuts to security were made even after a patient escaped from the hospital and brutally murdered a woman.

We documented a troubling number of escapes including some that involved criminally insane patients.

And we reported that a few of the patients who have escaped have yet to be recaptured.

We also chronicled a shocking level of violence at ASH , divulging how some staff and patients who have been assaulted have been seriously injured.

Our reports linked security cuts and assaults to dangerous staffing shortages .

Sources inside the hospital told us that they are constantly in fear because of these problems.

And experts told us that without some level of security and safety inside the hospital, there is no way staff can properly provide meaningful treatment for the patients.

"His voice is gone. He's gone and all I have left is a big old hole," Donna said.

State officials have refused to talk to us about how or why Chris Blackwell died.

But the ABC15 Investigators have obtained his autopsy report from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner.

The report shows Christopher had swallowed several objects in the days, weeks and months before his death including a pencil and an eyeglass rim.

The autopsy indicates Chris was last treated for swallowing dangerous objects in May -- four months earlier.

And the medical examiner's report says Christopher had a severe stomach infection and died as a result of complications of what it lists as "foreign body ingestion."

Donna Baird believes her son's death was preventable.

She does not believe Christopher got proper psychiatric treatment or medical care at ASH.

The ABC15 Investigators have learned that Christopher Blackwell was classified as a one-to-one patient at the hospital.

That means he was such a danger to himself that he was supposed to be under constant watch by a staff member at all times.

A hospital staffer was supposed to watch Chris 24/7, even when he slept.

Donna Baird wants to know how her son managed to swallow dangerous objects five times since November of 2012 if he was being so closely monitored.

"I think I need a lot of answers...somebody needs to come up with some really good truthful answers," Donna said.

The ABC15 Investigators have talked with two insiders who treated Christopher at ASH.

They told us staffing levels at the hospital are so low that it is nearly impossible for a patient like Christopher to get adequate supervision and care.

Donna Baird has hired

an attorney and she plans to file a lawsuit against the state.

She said she wants her son's death to bring about meaningful changes at the Arizona State Hospital.

She said she believes her son would still be here if he had been provided adequate care and treatment.

"I'm trying to look at the positive side of things but yet it still hurts knowing that I will never see my son again," Donna said.

A memorial fund has been established for Chris Blackwell in the name of Donna Baird at BBVA Compass Bank.

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