Family files claim against Iowa in man’s death

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The family of an Iowa man who died at a state mental health institution after he was given the wrong food to eat is seeking $1.8 million through a legal claim.

Cleojean Olson, sister of Richard Meredith, said she recently filed the claim through the State Appeal Board, The Des Moines Register reported (http://dmreg.co/1gTyu37 ). If the claim is rejected, the family can file a lawsuit.

Meredith was 81 when he was a patient at Clarinda Mental Health Institute last August. State records show a staff member gave him a peanut butter sandwich despite orders that specified he be given pureed food.

Meredith was later found slumped over and unresponsive. He was pronounced dead a short time later. A report from the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals says peanut butter was found in his airway.

Meredith’s family said state officials failed to disclose the circumstances of his death until the case gained media attention. His official cause of death was a heart attack, and no autopsy was performed.

They also said it’s the second time the state has mistreated Meredith; they claim he was given a lobotomy in 1955 without family consent.

Olson, of Des Moines, said she filed the claim because she wants someone to be held accountable for the manner in which Meredith died.

“Primarily, I want my brother’s life to have meant something,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services said Wednesday that the agency was reviewing the claim and would wait for a decision from the appeals board.

Olson told the newspaper she would donate any money from the case to agencies that help people with a mental illness or disability.

“This is such a drop in the bucket for what Dick went through,” she said, referring to her brother.

After Meredith’s death, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals filed a report on the incident and the institute was fined more than $8,000. Gov. Terry Branstad commented on the case in January, telling the Register that he was “very disturbed” that state officials misled Meredith’s family about his death.

“There’s no excuse for that, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “They should have told the truth from the very beginning.”

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Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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