Worker Charged After Patient Dies at Mental Health Care Facility - NBC 6 South Florida

Worker Charged After Patient Dies at Mental Health Care Facility

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    A South Florida woman has been charged with neglect after an elderly man died on surveillance video falling and hitting his head at a mental health care facility in Pembroke Pines. Willard Shepard reports. (Published Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015)

    A South Florida woman has been charged with neglect after surveillance video at a mental health care facility in Pembroke Pines shows an elderly man falling and hitting his head. The man later died.

    Debra Judge Thomas, a worker at South Florida State Hospital was charged with neglect and abuse of an elderly person.

    Thomas was charged two weeks after 62-year-old Morris Celnikier died and four months after Pembroke Pines Police asked her to tell them what happened to the man.

    In an exclusive video obtained by NBC 6 South Florida, Thomas is seen entering the interview room at the police department as detectives question her about the incident.

    The patient, Morris Celnikier, suffered from schizophrenia and he’s seen on surveillance video hitting his head multiple times and banging on the wall, looking for a way out of the room.

    Celnikier’s family says he was locked in, even though he was supposed to always be within arm’s length of a professional caregiver.

    Thomas told detectives that Celnikier was supposed to receive direct supervision because he had previously gotten into an altercation with another patient.

    “He was put on one-to-one to keep him from going into somebody's room because that's what he kept doing. That's the reason he got the bruises that he got,” Thomas said.

    The worker added that Celnikier was alone because he would also fight with the staff.

    “We can redirect him. We tell him, 'Morris go sit down,' and he will turn around and go sit down but he will come right back at you,” she added.

    The patient’s sister said the 40 minutes he spent at the facility ultimately killed him in March 2014.

    Detectives said in a report that “The footage clearly shows that the Def (defendant) escorted the victim to the seclusion room and shows that the door is closed and he is unable to get out.”

    They added “It also shows that the lights … are shut off. The Def (defendant) does not keep a direct line of sight of the victim as she is instructed to do.”

    Thomas told officials that the victim's injuries were not her fault and she pleaded not guilty.

    She is due back in court in March and said only a nurse or doctor could have directed Celnikier to be placed in the room, not her.

    On Wednesday, a Broward County judge dismissed the facility’s efforts to have the civil action against it overturned.

    NBC 6 reached out to the lawyers of the facility but has not heard back yet.