Substance Abuse Treatment Center, County Sued over Patient’s Fentanyl Death

CNN Newsource Pristine Villarreal

RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A substance abuse treatment center and the Riverside County Behavioral Health Department are jointly targeted in a lawsuit filed by the mother of a 24-year-old woman who took a fatal dose of fentanyl while she was allegedly left unsupervised at the facility for an extended period, according to the plaintiffs.

Karri Ryder, mother of Melissa Monique Bauman of Riverside, filed the wrongful death suit in Riverside Superior Court Thursday, alleging negligence of a dependent adult, breach of professional duties and other acts against MFI Recovery Center and the county.

“The plaintiffs allege that whether it was a matter of choice or indifference, and despite knowing that an individual like Ms. Bauman would be particularly vulnerable to custodial neglect and needed to be protected from matters which could pose a hazard to her health and safety, MFI failed to assign staff, personnel and security sufficient to properly monitor her behavior while she was a resident,” according to the suit.

Attorney Elan Zekster told City News Service that the county “was aware of numerous complaints at the Arlington Recovery Center … (but) they allowed the facility to continue being run by MFI, knowing that they were not taking care of their patients.”

The county Department of Behavioral Health released a statement to CNS Friday, stating that the Arlington Recovery Center, for which MFI had the contract to operate on County Farm Road, was investigated last year by the California Department of Health Care Services, resulting in citations for “deficiencies.”

“Their provisional license was subsequently revoked,” according to the statement. “Behavioral Health terminated its contract for the ARC with MFI on Dec. 8, 2022. While the Riverside University Health System works to swiftly acquire a new contractor for the ARC and apply for licensure for services, the ARC will remain closed.”

There was no direct response to the civil suit, which county officials said they had not yet received.

MFI CEO Jonathan Delgado released a statement acknowledging “there is nothing more tragic to a family and the recovery community than a death of one of our own. It is an unfortunate event for any family, community and agency. We at MFI support the family in their wishes to improve patient care.”

Delgado said that “all of the MFI employees” who worked at the ARC have since been terminated.

“(We have) brought on new leadership and have implemented innovative technology beyond the status quo utilized in the industry,” according to the company, which continues to operate private outpatient treatment facilities in Banning, Hemet, Murrieta and a separate location in Riverside. “We are committed to restoring lives and giving hope, and we stand and mourn with all those impacted by the tragic outcomes of addiction.”

According to the plaintiffs’ filing, Bauman had a history of substance abuse but realized a need for help and willingly checked into the ARC with her mother’s assistance on July 24, 2022.

The suit alleges that the defendants “should have known … Bauman’s prior history of abuse and recurring conditions,” with a predisposition to trying to “use drugs or alcohol” at every opportunity.

“MFI staff needed to check on Bauman every 30 minutes to ensure that she was in stable condition, especially since she was in the early stages of her detox,” according to the filing.

The suit alleges that an investigation later conducted by Riverside police uncovered instances where checkups, which were supposed to be conducted every 30 minutes to ensure the patient’s welfare, were instead done tardily, on more than 20 occasions.

“Surveillance clearly showed that MFI Recovery Center had falsified the check logs,” according to the suit. “Despite logs indicating MFI employees checked on plaintiff at 3:38 a.m. and 4:59a.m., video evidence clearly showed this to be false. Bauman was then found deceased at 5:58 am. (on July 26).”

It was unclear where she had obtained the fentanyl and why it had not been detected when she entered the treatment facility.

Zekster further alleges that none of the ARC staff attempted to administer “Narcan, epinephrine or any other type of opioid overdose treatment to Bauman to attempt to resuscitate her prior to arrival of emergency personnel.”

She was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

According to the suit, the county had “received various complaints from other individuals who had received treatment at the ARC,” but failed to take decisive action.

The damage award sought by the plaintiffs exceeds $10 million.

No hearings have been set yet in the case.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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