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Woman's suicide provokes inquiry

When she wasn't admitted to a hospital for emergency treatment, a 51-year-old woman said she might as well go home and commit suicide. She did and now a state regulatory agency is investigating.

Margaret McCarthy-Foulk, at 408 pounds, found it difficult to breathe. She had been suffering painful, oozing sores on her left leg for months and while she was at JFK Medical Center for tests on Feb. 23 she went to the emergency room, wanting to be admitted.

She wasn't.

"She said, "They're not going to admit me. I might as well go home and commit suicide,' " said Maureen Dawkins, who worked as McCarthy-Foulk's companion and accompanied her to the hospital.

That's exactly what McCarthy-Foulk did two hours later, overdosing on a mix of painkillers and other drugs at her home in suburban Lantana.

Months later, a question lingers: Could someone have stopped her? .

Her son, Michael Johnson, who found her in 1991, 24 years after he was given up for adoption, asked Florida licensing officials to review the case.

"I believe the doctors were irresponsible in letting her leave JFK in such an agitated mental condition," Johnson wrote in his complaint.

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has started an investigation, according to letters the agency sent to Johnson, 29, on July 12.

If the state finds violations of state laws or rules, doctors may be reprimanded, asked to take classes or pay a fine. In the most serious cases, doctors can be put on probation or have their licenses suspended or revoked.

Johnson, a senior probation officer who lives in Woodbridge, N.J., said he does not hold the doctors solely responsible for his mother's suicide. But he thinks they could have done more. He said he thought they should have questioned his mother or asked a psychologist or psychiatrist to evaluate her before sending her home.

The Baker Act, Florida's mental health law, makes it possible to detain people who are deemed a risk to themselves or others for evaluation and, if necessary, treatment.

It's not clear if that was ever considered in this case. Exactly what happened after McCarthy-Foulk made her remark is in dispute.

Johnson's mother, a registered nurse who worked at Palm Beach Regional Hospital from 1984 to 1991, had battled depression for years because of her weight, a police report says.

Dawkins had been hired a week earlier as a companion for McCarthy-Foulk. McCarthy-Foulk said she was hungry. Dawkins fixed her some food.

"She was writing and she was crying," Dawkins said. "She said nobody cares." About 4 p.m., Dawkins heard groaning and went to check on her. She found McCarthy-Foulk on her bed, shaking and unresponsive.