North Little Rock Arkansas psychiatric hospital settles suit

Suicidal Danville woman fled from lobby, jumped off I-430 bridge

By JOHN LYNCH
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE, July 18, 2007

A North Little Rock psychiatric hospital paid a last-minute settlement Tuesday to avoid trial on a Danville woman's claims that its staff failed to prevent her from leaving the facility and trying to commit suicide by jumping off a nearby bridge. Danville attorney John C. Reidel, representing The Bridge-Way Hospital, employee Paul Rogers and the companies that run the hospital, UHS of Delaware Inc. and Universal Health Services Inc. of Pennsylvania, would not say why the hospital offered the payment as jurors were about to be selected in Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox's courtroom. The trial had been scheduled to run six days.

Skip Simpson of Frisco, Texas, the attorney for plaintiff Alysia Ashley, said he also could not disclose the amount of the payment, but that hospital officials had acknowledged missteps in sworn statements.

"They might not be admitting liability [with the settlement], but they all admitted this should not have happened," Simpson said. "[Rogers] said he was wrong and he didn't blame Ms. Ashley." Court filings show the 98-bed hospital has taken steps to prevent what happened to Ashley, 42, from happening again. The "remedial" measures include installing new security devices in the hospital's lobby and adding glass to the doors where patients are assessed.

"Through its representatives, The BridgeWay Inc. has represented to plaintiff that these measures were as a result of Alysia Ashley's visit to the hospital in November 19, 2004," a brief states.

Diagnosed with severe depression, Ashley was tearful and suicidal when two Yell County deputies brought her to the hospital for the involuntary commitment, the lawsuit says. She reportedly told hospital staff she wanted to die.

When left alone in the lobby with her medication during the admission process, according to the lawsuit, Ashley consumed a "large amount" of the medication, left the facility and went to a nearby Interstate 430 overpass where she jumped.

Simpson said 20 to 25 minutes passed before hospital staff noticed Ashley was missing. They searched the parking lot, but did not look down the road where Ashley had walked to the overpass, he said.

The lawsuit claims, among other things, that BridgeWay negligently failed to place Ashley in a secure room, wrongly allowed her to keep her medication, did not adequately supervise her and did not give proper regard to her safety. Rogers, who interviewed Ashley during the admission process, did not have adequate training to deal with suicidal patients, Simpson said.