Reporter finds mental health evaluations missed in ER that released murder suspect

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

magnifying-glassReporter Amy Neff Roth (@OD_Roth), of the Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch found an interesting story with the help of hospitalinspections.org.

Roth, who attended Health Journalism 2015 as an AHCJ-New York Health Journalism Fellow, investigated the circumstances around a triple homicide and found that not all emergency room patients in need of mental health evaluations were getting them.

Police brought [Paul] Bumbolo into the ER for an evaluation on Jan. 6 after he reportedly attacked his uncle and beat the family dog. Police said he killed his adoptive mother, uncle and sister several hours after being released.

Roth, using the reports from hospitalinspections.org, found that patients brought to the hospital with potential psychiatric conditions “did not receive mental health evaluations by a licensed clinical social worker.” Two patients, including one whose description sounds similar to the murder suspect, were released.

One, called “Patient A,” didn’t receive an evaluation because an ER doctor didn’t know the proper procedure for ordering one, according to the report.

Like Bumbolo, “Patient A” was brought into the ER in handcuffs by police, according to the report. Police paperwork, cited in the report, described the male patient like this: “alleged animal abuse, hostile, belligerent, overly suspicious, feelings of persecution, confused and disoriented, hearing voices, a danger to him/herself and/or others.”

Inspectors reviewed the records on Jan. 8, two days after Bumbolo was seen. Of course, hospital officials did not confirm that Bumbolo was “Patient A.”

But the reports did bring to light what one expert called “some real concerns,” while acknowledging that it’s not an uncommon problem. Roth requested the hospital’s plan of correction under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, but the request was denied.

Other reporters might want to look into how mental health evaluations are handled in their local emergency departments. Dr. Jon Berlin, the expert Roth turned to for an outside perspective, told her that “ERs are seeing an unprecedented number of psychiatric patients.”

Hospitalinspections.org is run by the Association of Health Care Journalists with the goal of making federal hospital inspection reports easier to access, search and analyze. It was most recently updated in August.

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