Patient's mother files claim against Arizona state mental hospital over son's death

Arizona state mental hospital officials repeatedly failed to protect a young man in their care and lied about the circumstances surrounding his death, according to a notice of claim filed by the patient’s mother.

Christopher Paul Blackwell died last year of complications from swallowing dangerous objects. His mother, Donna Baird , will file a lawsuit against the state unless it settles for $7 million.

“As a result of (the hospital’s) negligent care and callous disregard for his safety, Chris collapsed and died,” the claim states.

Read the notice of claim

Blackwell died just two weeks before his 24th birthday. He was committed to the Arizona State Hospital, or ASH, so that he could receive constant monitoring and treatment to stop him from swallowing.

But On September 8, Blackwell collapsed in his room. At the time, officials said he “choked on an Ensure shake.”

But his autopsy would later show that he has swallowed several objects in the days, weeks and months before his death. Medical examiners would determine he died from a severe stomach infection.

The notice of claim reveals even more troubling details about Blackwell’s death, including:

  • “In April 2013, Donna spoke to her son shortly after he had swallowed some eyeglass frames. ASH doctors said that instead of surgery, they would wait to see if he passed it. After several months, ASH nurse "Christy" told Donna that based on a CAT scan, he had passed the frames without any perforation to his intestine… When Chris died, surgeons found the frames (and two others) inside of him and three perforations of his intestine. Donna realized ASH had simply left the frames inside of him for months and that the nurse had lied about him having passed it.”
  • “Since Chris’s June 8, 2011 commitment, medical personnel removed foreign objects from Chris on December 9, 2011, November 18, 2012, January 29, 2013, February 26, 2013, May 3, 2013, and September 6, 2013. Chris swallowed a razor blade, glass, a box cutter, screws, a broken cd case, and several sunglass frames.”
  • “Chris suffered severe stress at ASH due to assaults by other patients and mistreatment by staff. By the middle of 2012, other patients had assaulted Chris at least six times.”
  • “…on August 13, Donna attended a care plan meeting for Chris….Donna asked why Chris was so bloated. One social worker joked that it was probably because he had foreign objects in him.”
  • "On December 6, 2013, we sent ASH a letter detailing its obligations to preserve evidence that is potentially relevant to Donna Baird's claims, including electronically stored information. We have heard, however, that evidence is being destroyed."

The ABC15 Investigators have been reporting on Blackwell’s death for months. 

The stories are part of a larger series that have exposed serious issues with safety, security and treatment at the Arizona State Hospital. Directly because of our investigation, the federal government conducted a surprise inspection, which the hospital failed. The case is ongoing.

Inspectors released a scathing 46-page report about their last inspection.

A few of the key findings:

 •The hospital has "systemic problems" with nursing care. Inspectors found there was a "failure to ensure that the number of RNs and other personnel met the facility's pre-determined staffing requirements to provide for patients' safety and care needs for 9 of 9 patients who sustained self-inflicted injury, assaulted others, or were assaulted by other patients."

•The hospital "endangers" the lives of patients. In the past several months, inspectors discovered the state hospital failed to properly care for six patients, who all required constant supervision. One of those patients was Blackwell.

State health and hospital officials, including health director Will Humble, have declined to comment on the death or inspection.

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