State Politics

Man dies at NC psychiatric hospital of apparent suicide

A patient at the state-run psychiatric hospital in Butner was found dead early Tuesday morning of an apparent suicide.

The 42-year-old man in Central Regional Hospital’s forensic-services unit was found at 4:10 a.m. on Tuesday, a belt tight around his neck, according to a death report from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Hospital staff saw the patient was not in his bed, the report said. When staff opened the bathroom door, the man’s body fell to the floor. He was declared dead about 30 minutes later, after attempts to revive him failed.

“The department has expressed condolences to the family for their loss,” DHHS said in an email.

DHHS spokesman Jim Jones said the department could not, for privacy reasons, disclose specifically how often the man should have been checked. Observation levels range from constant to every 30 minutes.

A DHHS investigation is ongoing.

The patient’s name was not disclosed. He was in a section of the hospital that is reserved for people receiving court-ordered mental-health evaluations. Former criminal defendants who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or have been found incompetent to stand trial also live in the unit.

Before the hospital opened in Butner in 2008, internal reviews identified doorknobs and bathroom handrails in the building that presented suicide hazards. Some of those were fixed before the hospital began accepting patients.

Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, said the group has not seen many suicides in state facilities in the past few years, but would look more closely at this one because the man was in a controlled area.

As a federally designated protection and advocacy organization for North Carolina, Disability Rights can look at patient records in facilities to see if there is reason to believe that abuse or neglect has occurred.

“This will bear looking at more closely,” Smith said.

The Joint Commission, a federal agency that can investigate problems at hospitals, said it had received a report of an incident at Central Regional and is reviewing it.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner