- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

The sister of a man who died after being beaten by another psychiatric patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast filed a $2 million lawsuit against the D.C. government for negligence.

The suit, filed last Friday in D.C. Superior Court, says the city violated national standards of care, including “the duty to properly monitor and supervise patients in order to avoid foreseeable injury.”

The beating of patient Alan Martin, who suffered from bipolar disorder, took place early April 4, 2004, the suit says. Mr. Martin’s sister, Theresa Roberson, is the representative of Mr. Martin’s estate and filed the suit.

Mr. Martin, 55, was kicked and stomped in the head by another patient three days after his admission to the hospital, at 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.

He was hospitalized with facial and head fractures and died from his injuries on March 12, 2005, the suit says.

“He should have been supervised,” said William Lightfoot, who is representing Miss Roberson.

The D.C. Office of the Attorney General declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit yesterday.

“Once we do receive the complaint, we’ll review the allegations and respond accordingly in court,” said Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.

The U.S. Justice Department and a nonprofit group tasked with overseeing the hospital have been critical of the District’s management of St. Elizabeths in recent years.

The District-based University Legal Services filed a lawsuit against the District last year over conditions at the hospital.

“Just about every staff member we’ve deposed has made comments that they’re understaffed,” Patrick Wojahn, an attorney for the nonprofit, said yesterday.

The University Legal Services lawsuit says that staffing and management failures have led to the deaths of several patients, and overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.

The Justice Department began an investigation into St. Elizabeths last year over conditions at the hospital.

D.C. officials have said that they are working to improve the hospital.

Stephen T. Baron, director for the D.C. Department of Mental Health, told D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, at an oversight hearing in June that he has been conducting his own internal review.

“No person or process that is relevant to patient safety and quality of care will be excluded from our review, including overall staffing,” said Mr. Baron, who was appointed after the resignation earlier this year of Martha B. Knisley.

“If personnel actions are called for, personnel actions will be taken. If processes are flawed or broken, those processes will be changed and improved,” Mr. Baron said.

Founded in 1855, St. Elizabeths was the federal government’s hospital for the mentally ill. Its vacated buildings fell into disrepair as patient levels dropped from 7,000 in the 1940s to fewer than 500 today.

The federal government transferred hospital operations to the city in 1987. The campus comprises more than 144 buildings on more than 300 acres.

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