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Hospital sued over husband's suicide

A Citrus County woman whose husband committed suicide two years ago while he was a patient at Seven Rivers Community Hospital's psychiatric unit is suing the hospital and the doctor who sent him there.

Isabell Spindler Bitter, whose husband, Arthur Spindler, died June 1, 1995, seeks more than $15,000 in damages. The court has not set a preliminary hearing date for the lawsuit, filed last week in circuit court.

According to the complaint, Arthur Spindler had a long history of manic depression. He was a patient at the Oaks, a 16-bed adult psychiatric unit at Seven Rivers, from March 8-28, 1995, when Dr. Mercedes Brito-Deforge, a psychiatrist, said he suffered from hypomania, a form of manic-depressive psychosis.

Brito-Deforge admitted Spindler to the Oaks again at 9 a.m. May 30, the complaint said. At the time, Spindler was suffering from severe depression.

At 3:47 p.m. the next day, health professionals found Spindler hanging in Room 331. His belt was wrapped around his neck. He died the next day, the complaint said.

Through her lawyer, R. Dennis Comfort of Gainesville, Mrs. Bitter has accused the doctor and hospital of being medically negligent; she also says Seven Rivers should be held vicariously liable for any wrongdoing of Brito-Deforge, who has admitting privileges at the hospital.

As required by law in medical negligence/wrongful death cases, Mrs. Bitter obtained an expert's opinion about the case before she filed suit.

That expert, psychiatrist Larry S. Kirstein, reviewed the file and found that Seven Rivers and Brito-Deforge had breached the "prevailing standard of care" by failing to:

+ Recognize signs of severe depression.

+ Evaluate and treat Spindler in a timely manner.

+ Properly medicate Spindler for severe depression.

+ Provide adequate suicide precautions and safeguards.

+ Recognize an emergency condition.

+ Remove all objects that Spindler could have used in a suicide attempt.

+ Maintain accurate records for a patient under suicide precautions.

+ Adequately warn Spindler's family of the risk of suicide.

Dorothy Linton, a hospital spokeswoman, said Seven Rivers would not comment on pending litigation, but that lawyers will address the allegations in court.

A reporter faxed a copy of the complaint to Brito-Deforge's office at Meadowcrest. A man from that office called late Wednesday to say that, at her lawyer's advice, Brito-Deforge declined to comment.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration showed no complaints, either past or pending, concerning Brito-Deforge. Likewise, a computer data base that the state Department of Insurance maintains showed no record of her involvement in any malpractice lawsuits that resulted in payment to the plaintiffs.

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