Veteran’s family gets $800,000

honolulu

Ex-Air Force man killed himself at Tripler after his pleas were ignored

By ROB PEREZ
Advertiser Staff Writer

The federal government has paid $800,000 to the family of a suicidal Air Force veteran who jumped to his death from Tripler Army Medical Center after his pleas to be admitted went unheeded, the family's attorney said yesterday.

Robert Roth, 50, who suffered from a bipolar mood disorder and had a long history of depression, died in January 2007 after he jumped from a 10th-floor balcony at Tripler.

The family sued the U.S. government, alleging that Tripler was careless and negligent in its care of Roth. The $800,000 settlement means a trial scheduled for next month will not be held.

If Tripler had admitted Roth on either of two instances in December 2006 when he went to the hospital emergency room seeking help, he would have been hospitalized for a short period, had his anti-depressant medication adjusted and would have been OK, according to Rick Fried, the family's attorney.

Instead, Roth, frustrated after waiting about three hours without being seen by a psychologist on the second visit, told hospital personnel that he planned to commit suicide by jumping from the top floor of Tripler, according to Army records and Fried. Several days later he did precisely that.

On his first visit, Roth waited more than five hours and never saw a psychiatrist, only a physician training to be one, records show. He told medical personnel he planned to jump off a Makapu'u cliff, but his request to be admitted was ignored, Fried said.

Fried said Roth's depression started to worsen in late 2006, his anti-depressant medication was improperly adjusted by his Tripler physician and twice he showed up at the ER wanting to be admitted. Both times he packed an overnight bag thinking he would be.

The second time he left the ER angry - and against the advice of medical personnel - because he wasn't being treated and had been told patients more sick were being seen before him, according to his family and Fried.

Seven and 14 years earlier, Roth similarly had trouble with his depression, and each of those times he was briefly hospitalized, his medication was adjusted and he was fine, Reed said. One of those hospitalizations was at Tripler.

When Roth was having trouble in 2006, his psychiatrist stopped one medication much too quickly and started Roth on another too slowly, basically leaving him inadequately medicated at the time of his death, Fried said.

A Tripler representative did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

But in December 2007, when the lawsuit was filed, the hospital issued a statement saying the facts had been thoroughly investigated and the case would be vigorously defended.

"We have faith in the legal process and believe cases such as this are appropriately tried in a courtroom," the Tripler statement said.

When Roth was trying to be admitted, Tripler did not have a written policy for dealing with suicidal patients, Fried said.