State settles in death at mental health institute - KCTV5

State settles in death at mental health institute

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Gov. Bill Haslam has authorized a payout of $255,000 to a Middle Tennessee family.

The payout comes two years after a Channel 4 I-Team investigation exposed a death of a Nashville man and other mistreatment of patients inside the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute.

The settlement ends a troubling chapter in the family of Cody Skelton's fight with the state.

The I-Team investigation found that Skelton was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes, but was left alone long enough to drown himself in the toilet of his bathroom.

"Sometimes I feel angry, sometimes I feel confused," said Milton Skelton, the victim's brother. "But mostly, I just want to know what happened."

Following Cody Skelton's death, the I-Team found dozens of cases of patient abuse, including photographs of employees sleeping on the job rather than watching patients.

Eight months after Cody Skelton died, the CEO of the institute resigned and the Skelton family sued.

"I believe part of the reason Cody Skelton's family wanted to bring this lawsuit is to ensure that this doesn't happen to another family," Matt Hardin, the Skelton family attorney, said in August of 2012.

The Skelton family cannot comment on the settlement, and with the payment, "releases the state and its employees from any liability for damages of any kind."

In the wake of Cody Skelton's death, multiple employees were fired. Doug Varney, the commissioner of the state department of mental health, told the I-Team he brought in two outside independent reviews.

"There were not any major findings or areas of concerns," Varney said in October of 2012.

When asked how he would respond to being told that some families feel their loved ones are not safe in the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, Varney said, "I think we do an amazing job. Does that mean we're perfect? No. Does that mean we fail? We're dealing with very difficult cases."

In the terms of the settlement, the Skelton family also dropped their lawsuit against Guardian Healthcare Providers and AllPro, Inc.

"We are saddened this event occurred, and since then the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute, under the authority of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has enhanced its standards and protocols to help ensure this never happens again," said Mike Machak, director of the Office of Communications at the Tennessee Department of Mental Health. "We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Skelton."

The I-Team investigation also found other patients suing and winning for patient care. The Court of Appeals awarded the family of Charles Lehman more than $100,000.

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