Rich Detty, whose son died in 2010 while in the care of Santa Barbara County's acute psychiatric hospital, has settled a lawsuit with the county for $1.25 million.
However, Detty said the money is little consolation, and he takes issue with what has actually changed to keep other patients safe since his son's death.
Detty sued the county and employees of its Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, charging that they violated his son’s constitutional rights and contributed to Clifford Detty's wrongful death after he perished in a locked county psychiatric facility.
On April 29, 2010, Clifford Detty, 46, of Santa Maria died after spending hours in a restraint that held his limbs and torso down inside the county’s Psychiatric Health Facility at 315 Camino del Remedio near Goleta.
In the last years of his life, Detty, who had paranoid schizophrenia, spent much of his time homeless or in jail. His father repeatedly reached out to mental health officials for help, but they told him they couldn’t intervene unless his son sought assistance on his own.
A year after Detty’s death, a county Coroner’s Office report was issued, calling the death accidental.
But his father sued the county and 10 ADMHS staff members, and a settlement was finalized on Oct. 24 of this year to pay out $1.25 million rather than take the case to trial.
Detty's lawsuit claimed that the county failed to train PHF staff to use seclusion and restraint only when other measures to subdue a patient have been ineffective.
A Noozhawk review of records found that Santa Barbara County’s 16-bed unit tends to keep patients in restraints almost three times as long as other similarly sized California facilities that submitted quarterly reports to the state Office of Patient Rights.
Detty's complaint also stated that staff failed to properly document the incident, and put Detty at a high risk for bodily harm by placing him in restraints when they knew he had drugs in his system. The suit also stated that Detty’s constitutional rights were violated by being improperly restrained.
The Psychiatric Health Facility’s on-call physician, Dr. Charles Nicholson, was also listed on the suit, as were nurses Reyante Bugay, Moira O’Connor and Alex Romano, and psychiatric technicians Erma Gomes and Carol Smith — all of whom were on the night shift when Detty’s death occurred.
After the lawsuit was filed, a separate investigation found that the hospital was out of compliance with required federal guidelines, even as it had been accepting federal dollars, but was able to make the changes required to keep their doors open.
The county has also stated that it has made significant changes to the department since Detty's death, and has conducted several audits pointing out deficiencies and changes.
A progress report on those changes is expected to come in mid-January, said Dr. Takashi Wada, director of Public Health as well as interim director of ADMHS after Detrick's departure.
Santa Barbara County Counsel Dennis Marshall confirmed the settlement.
"Anytime when life is lost, that's really a sad day," he said. "I think the parties worked together and put that litigation to bed. ... The department is always looking for opportunities to improve their systems."
Detty maintains that the county has not done enough, however, and that he felt pressured by his attorney and the county's insurance adjustor to settle.
"I was prepared to go to trial," he said. "I was ready. … There was no way we were going to lose."
Detty said he would have settled for $1.5 million, so that significant donations and scholarships for mental health care in the county could be made, and said that requirements for the changes he wanted to see at the PHF were not included in the terms of the settlement.
"The money wasn't what I was here for," he said, adding that no dollar amount could be put on his son's life. "I kept saying what about changes at PHF. I want to know what they're doing."
Detty's attorney, David Feldman, said Clifford's "untimely death was tragic and avoidable," but that changes had been made since.
Feldman said Clifford's vital signs were not taken after he was initially admitted to the PHF, which "was a substantial departure from the standard of care, placing Clifford in great physical danger, and violating his basic civil right to be free from harm."
In response, the department initiated a vital signs form for the nursing staff to fill out that should help ensure that restrained patients’ vital signs are not overlooked, he said.
"If Clifford’s death will somehow increase patient safety and perhaps save another’s life, then it might possibly bring some measure of solace," he said. "Tragically, Clifford and his family had to pay the ultimate price."
Feldman said the allegation that Detty was forced into a settlement instead of taking the case to trial "is simply not true, and there is no basis for that statement."
Feldman said he was fully prepared to go to trial, but that the case settled on the eve of trial after more than two years of litigation. Detty had complete knowledge of all aspects of the settlement and signed the agreement, Feldman said.
In the meantime, Detty said he had a familiar feeling during the settlement talks.
When his son was sick, "every door was shut in my face" to get help, Detty said. "I ran into the same thing when I ran into this settlement."
He said he even sent an email to the county's Board of Supervisors expressing dismay with the settlement, and that he felt he was being strong-armed, but never heard any response.
"Just like they did with Clifford," he said. "They would take the information and slip it in on folder somewhere or just throw it in the trash."