BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – An investigation by state officials determined an employee at the Erie County Medical Center failed to properly monitor a woman on suicide watch.
Joseph Daniel of Wheatfield said life with his wife, Samara, was sweet at the outset. They married in 2006 after meeting at Women and Children’s Hospital. He was an electrician working at the hospital and she ordered surgical supplies. Joseph says his wife was always upbeat and “real ambitious, full of life… always made people laugh and happy.”
But four years later, depress began taking over Samara’s life.
“She had lost her mother. Her father was in a nursing home. She had a problem having children,” Joseph said.
And though Samara tried to put on a good face for him and his two children from a previous marriage, Joseph says she was losing her battle to remain happy.
One day in 2010, Samara overdosed on pills and was taken to ECMC for intensive care and psychiatric evaluation.
“They put her in the ICU and put her on a 24-hour watch. Kept her for a week.”
This past September, Samara again took an overdose of pills and was returned to ECMC and put on a 24-hour watch. But Joseph says she was discharged two days later with no advice to the family and little direction on what to do next.
“On her discharge papers, they just told her they couldn’t find a psychiatrist, so they told her to use a walk-in clinic.”
The next day, while at home, Joseph says Samara made another attempt at suicide. He says when he got out of the shower he saw her holding a knife and she had a cut on her neck.
Joseph took her back to ECMC, but this time the suicide watch was designated to be every 15 minutes, not around the clock.
Two days into her stay, Samara was found dead. Bob Maranto, one of the attorneys for the Daniel family, said Samara took her life by taking a bed sheet and putting it around a sink and hanging herself.
When Joseph arrived at the hospital he says he could not get details of his wife’s death.
“They didn’t tell me anything, other than she’s dead. They wouldn’t answer. They said it’s a police investigation.”
News 4 Investigates obtained a copy of the findings of a probe of this case by the New York State Justice Center, which handles cases of people with special needs. The Justice Center found that “a staff member (at ECMC) committed neglect when she failed to adequately perform the 15 minute checks required for Samara.”
Moranto said, “When they found her, it’s our understanding that there had been some rigor mortis already set in. We don’t know exactly how long she was deceased when they found her.”
ECMC says it cannot discuss patient information, but issued a statement saying, “This litigation involves a tragic circumstance of a former patient. ECMC officials intend to allow the judicial system to resolve this unfortunate incident. We continue to take very seriously the safety and care of all our patients.”
Moranto said, “We believe, and the experts we talked to believe, that Samara should have been put on 24-hour watch when she was admitted to the hospital on the second occasion.”
A lawsuit by alleges “due to negligence, carelessness, and recklessness, Samara Daniel committed suicide.”
Why, the family asks, was Samara allegedly allowed to remain in a room with the ability to harm herself, and why wasn’t she monitored more closely?
Ken Szyszkowski, another attorney handling the case for the Daniel family, said the tragedy has “had a profound impact on Joe himself, his family, Samara’s siblings. It’s altered their life immensely.”
Joseph says the loss of his wife has “changed my whole life.” A major reason he has brought the lawsuit, he says, is that he “wouldn’t want somebody else to take their wife in and have this happen to them.”
ECMC will not reveal the status of the staff member who committed the offense of neglect. Two other staff members at ECMC were cleared in the state investigation.
Neglect is considered by the state the second most serious offense in an institution such as a hospital. The first is physical, psychological, or sexual abuse of a patient by an employee. If neglect happens twice in three years that employee is put on a list and excluded from working with people with special needs.