Woman Sues Mental Health Facility After Brother’s Death

Vivian Mechaber has filed a lawsuit against South Florida State Hospital's owners following the death of her brother.

A South Florida woman is suing a mental health facility in Pembroke Pines after she says her brother died from injuries sustained while he was supposed to be under the watch of a caregiver.

Vivian Mechaber said her 62-year-old brother Morris Celnikier, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was left unsupervised in a locked room at South Florida State Hospital in December of last year. Celnikier died just four months later, and his sister claims his death was caused by injuries sustained in the 40 minutes he was left alone.

In video footage obtained exclusively by NBC 6 investigator Willard Shepard, Celnikier can be seen falling and hitting his head several times, banging on the walls, and apparently looking for some way out the locked room.

"I'm flabbergasted," Mechaber said. "He was in such a weak condition. This weakened him even more."

In the video, Celnikier can be seen pulling the mattress off his stationary bed and attempting to move the bed.

"When I saw him in that little four-by-six, knocking [on] the doors and trying to climb for help from the windows, it was terrible," Mechaber said.

She said four days went by before her brother was taken to Memorial Hospital in Hollywood for treatment.

According to the lawsuit filed by Mechaber against GEO Care, LLC, Celnikier was treated for multiple spine fractures. The lawsuit also alleges that while Celnikier was at South Florida State Hospital, he was physically battered. It says he was "manhandled, pushed into others and pulled around by his clothing."

"It's sad. This is something that cannot happen," said Mechaber's lawyer Paul Layne. "What we are looking here is just a total breakdown in the procedures and the performance and duties by multiple employees."

Celnikier never returned to the privately-owned South Florida State Hospital, where he had been staying since September 2012. Instead, he went to other rehabilitation facilities and died shortly after.

One of South Florida State Hospital's employees, Debra Judge-Thomas was charged with neglect and abuse of an elderly person following the December incident, but has said she is not guilty. It is unclear if she has an attorney.

In a statement, a South Florida State Hospital spokesperson said:

"GEO Care has always been committed to providing high quality mental healthcare to the persons served in our facilities. Our company's facilities strictly abide by contractual and regulatory requirements and adhere to leading industry standards set by independent accreditation entities, including The Joint Commission. As a matter of policy, our company is unable to comment on specific litigation or personnel related matters."

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