Delay in care cited in Tripler suicide

Star Bulletin

August 2, 2007

A suit against Tripler Army Medical Center is pending in the death of an Air Force veteran

By Alexandre Da Silva / adasilva@starbulletin.com

A depressed 50-year-old Air Force veteran jumped to his death from the 10th floor of Tripler Army Medical Center earlier this year after becoming upset with doctors who ignored the seriousness of his suicidal condition, his widow's attorney alleges.

Retired Master Sgt. Robert Roth, a clerk in the records section of the military hospital, died the morning of Jan. 2, about two weeks after he warned doctors he wanted to leap from the top of the hospital or the cliffs at Makapuu Beach, attorney Rick Fried said yesterday.

On Dec. 16, Roth, of Sioux Falls, S.D., who lived here with his wife, had to "wait several hours" to see an assistant psychiatrist who later released him, saying "he appeared to be OK to go home," according to an internal criminal investigation by the Army.

Ten days later, Roth stormed out of the hospital against medical advice after experiencing another long wait caused by the emergency room having only one doctor during the holiday, the report said.

A nurse log of that visit, which ended with security unsuccessfully trying to shut the front gate and stop Roth from fleeing in his car, said the patient "had suicidal ideations and believes he can kill himself."

"Patient feels he is being blown off and wants to get admitted to the hospital," it said.

A Tripler spokeswoman declined yesterday to comment on the case.

Satsuki Roth, who married Roth in 1999, said she was not feeling well enough to talk. She told Army investigators that her husband "became unable to cope with his depression and took his own life" because of the delays in getting care.

Information in the Army probe, which details Roth's four visits to the hospital in December and his January death, suggests staff were "negligent and careless," Fried said. He plans to sue for monetary and personal damages unless an out-of-court settlement is reached by Nov. 30.

Roth's suicide comes as the government's care of veterans has come under closer scrutiny after news reports recently exposed poor conditions and treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Also, in mid-January, Jonathan Shulze, a former Marine machine gunner in Iraq, hanged himself after having suicide treatment delayed at a VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minn.

Fried claims the hospital failed to remove Roth's car keys when he said he might kill himself and did not attempt to notify Roth's wife about his tumultuous Dec. 26 exit from the hospital until the next day.

A source interviewed by the Army also said Tripler's emergency section "did not have any written standard operating procedure for how to handle patients with suicidal intentions."

A day later, on Dec. 27, Roth saw his designated doctor, Hanan Hassanin, who gave him new medication and discharged him. On Jan. 2, Roth woke up, put on his favorite shirt, packed an overnight bag and told his wife he loved her before leaving to check himself in at the hospital.

But his appointment had been scheduled for the following day, and Roth found the hospital closed because of the federal holiday observing President Gerald Ford's death. He got into the building through an emergency door that had its alarm turned off by other workers, walked up to the 10th floor and plunged down 89 feet, landing on a web of air-conditioner pipes.

An autopsy determined Roth died from multiple internal injuries, and determined the case was a suicide.

Roth was a 20-year Air Force veteran who retired in 2000.