Mental care for inmates a priority
By Shelby Sebens, Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 6:01 a.m. Last Modified: Saturday, April 5, 2008 at 1:38 a.m.
Despite a judge's order for an immediate mental evaluation of Senaca Vaught, the Brunswick County jail inmate died more than a week before his scheduled evaluation by Evergreen Behavioral Services.
County and court officials are taking steps to make sure such delays aren't repeated.
"We just want to ensure that when a judge issues immediate medical attention of any kind, that that person's needs are being met in the most efficient and economical way," Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Ola Lewis said.
In a recent meeting of the jail population committee called by Lewis to discuss several topics, the members agreed improvements need to be made.
Vaught, who weighed 650 pounds, died Jan. 23 of suffocation after he attacked jailers and they pepper-sprayed and restrained him. His medical evaluation was scheduled for Feb. 1.
According to the chief medical examiner's report on Vaught's death, he had a history of paranoid schizophrenia and a seizure disorder. He was in jail for assaulting his mother on Christmas Day.
The order for his mental evaluation isn't considered public record, according to the Clerk of Court's office, so the date of the order and other details weren't available. But Lewis and County Manager Marty Lawing both said it required an immediate evaluation.
An internal meeting of local officials regarding mental health care in the jail was scheduled for last week, but the suspension and indictment of Ronald Hewett delayed it, Lawing said.
"It's still a priority, just not on the front burner at this point," he said, noting he expects the meeting to be rescheduled within the next couple of weeks. He said Interim Sheriff Greg White would be part of that meeting, and White has his hands full right now.
Lawing said the county hopes to create a contract with Evergreen Behavioral Services. The county used to contract with the Southeastern mental health center. But after the state's reforms of mental health care, the regional agency could not provide services directly, he said.
Evergreen and Southeastern both have offices near the jail in the county complex in Bolivia.
Lawing would not discuss specifics regarding mental health in the jail that need to be addressed.
"It's just premature to talk about it at this point," he said, but added, "We've got some issues to work through."
Calls to Capt. Kevin Holden, who oversees the jail, were not returned Friday. But Lawing said he believes the jailers in Vaught's case immediately conveyed the judge's mental evaluation order to Evergreen Behavioral Services.
Lewis said she also did not think the jailers were derelict in their duties.
A phone message for Evergreen Behavioral Services was not returned by press time.
Robert Karney, the attorney for Vaught's family, said he did not know about the order that Vaught needed an immediate mental evaluation. He said his investigator is looking into the case.
Karney did say he has received numerous phone calls from Brunswick County jail inmates who say they have been mistreated, but he is still evaluating the validity of the complaints.
Shelby Sebens: 755-7963
Autopsy finds inmate suffocated
Man died from restraint method in Brunswick jail, report says
By Shelby Sebens, Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 9:26 p.m. Last Modified: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 9:26 p.m.
An autopsy report on a Brunswick County jail inmate who died after a fight with officers revealed he suffocated because he was restrained with his face to the concrete floor.
Senaca Vaught, who weighed more than 600 pounds, died Jan. 23 because he was restrained face down with his arms shackled behind his back, according to the autopsy report. The report says it is medically documented that restraining a "morbidly obese" person face down can cause respiratory problems. Basically, he suffocated under the bulk of his own weight.
Vaught, 32, of Calabash, had attacked officers who were checking on him, authorities said. Officers Karl Scoggins and Dustin Riddle pepper sprayed him and took him to the floor.
The autopsy report stated Vaught had trouble breathing when the officers restrained him and went into cardiac arrest shortly after and the shackles were removed.
There were several attempts to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead about an hour after the incident occurred.
The officers who restrained Vaught were put on paid administrative leave. Several calls and messages left at the jail and Brunswick County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday were not returned by press time.
The State Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the incident, a spokeswoman for the SBI, Jennifer Canada, said in an e-mail. Once the investigation is complete, the results will be forwarded to the district attorney, who will decide whether to press charges.
Vaught's mother has hired an attorney from Charlotte to investigate her son's death.
"We are concerned that there was excessive force used," Robert Karney, the family's attorney, said Tuesday.
He said the cause of death revealed in the autopsy report "certainly raises that concern."
Vaught had been in an observation cell monitored by camera since Jan. 16 after exhibiting "bizarre and erratic" behavior, Brunswick County Sheriff Ronald Hewett has said.
He was awaiting a mental evaluation Feb. 1 by Evergreen Behavioral Services. Vaught was in custody after being charged with assaulting his mother on Christmas Day.
Shelby Sebens: 755-7963
------www.blueridge.comPraise for BrougtonWhen I tell people that my younger sister was a patient at Broughton Hospital, they often respond with words of sympathy. But in the four months that Jean was at one of the North Carolina state mental hospitals, I became encouraged about her future for the first time in 30 years. At Broughton Hospital, Jean was exposed to the "Essentials for Recovery" as outlined by Dr. Joyce Burland in her Family to Family course offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These are elements we all need in our lives:
· A safe and stable environment.
· The best medical treatment.
· Someone who sees her as special, who will share themselves.
· Something to get involved in: work, community, advocacy.
· Education about the effective management of her illness.
· Focus on her strengths and self-determination.
· Hope and a vision of what is possible.As my sister's court-appointed guardian, I was invited to attend the treatment team meetings with her at the hospital. In addition to Jean and me, a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, recreational therapist and RN were present. The psychologist typed notes into the computer that were displayed on a screen so all of us present could see what was being recorded in Jean's chart. At the meeting, my sister and I were asked to give our input about things the medical staff could do to assist her to become well enough to not require future hospitalizations. The treatment team's words and actions conveyed to Jean that she was someone special. Mondays through Fridays, the patients attended group sessions at the Treatment Center on the Broughton campus from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Exercise, cooking classes, craft workshops, group therapy and educational forums regarding the various mental illnesses were made available to the patients. On several occasions, Jean eagerly told me she'd learned of certain foods to avoid because of their adverse reaction with her psychotropic medications. No medical professional had shared this kind of information with Jean until she was a patient at Broughton. With each month my sister was at Broughton, she became more rational and less delusional. At the beginning of her third month, Jean was offered and accepted a part-time job at Broughton. This was the first job she'd held in the 32 years that she's been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Along with the joy of being able to earn her own money came that feeling of acceptance we all experience when someone says by their words or actions, "you are someone with potential." When the treatment team determined that my sister was stable enough to be discharged from Broughton Hospital, the staff social worker began helping her choose an assisted living facility. Once they determined in which county Jean planned to live, the social worker notified the local mental health provider (LME). A social worker from that LME met my sister and me at Broughton on the morning that Jean was discharged. This social worker advised us on how to schedule follow-up appointments, how to apply for Medicaid and gave us his cell phone number in case we needed further assistance. Before we left Broughton, Jean had a two-week supply of medications and resources in place to help ensure that she remain stable. The time my sister spent at Broughton Hospital put her on track to be able to adhere to her medications. The staff ensured she'd receive ongoing services by introducing her to the local mental health provider for the support she'll always need. But these two mental health agencies can't provide all the "essentials" that Jean and others with a mental illness must have to survive in society. In her list of "Essentials for Recovery," Dr. Burland includes "An educated, supportive family." If you or a loved one feels as if you're fighting a losing battle with mental illness and the mental health system, I recommend that you become an active member of your local chapter of NAMI (www.naminc.org). In NAMI, my sister and I learned the foundation of the "Essentials for Recovery." When the resources became available at Broughton Hospital and with the local mental health provider, my sister and I were educated and prepared to work with the mental health professionals of North Carolina. Roberta Kuile lives in Tryon.