A former Syracuse University student who claims she was involuntary committed to the psychiatric section of a hospital after she visited Health Services with flu-like symptoms is now suing the university and the hospital.
Kaitlin Taylor, a Union County, New Jersey resident, claims she was involuntary confined in the psychiatric section of St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center for six days in September 2013, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in New York County Supreme Court. She is now suing the university, a university employee and St. Joseph’s for misdiagnosing and improperly treating her, negligent and harmful use of medication and failure to get informed consent, among other reasons, the lawsuit states.
“When a student heads off to college, you are entrusting that they will be in a safe and secure environment,” said Marc Held, Taylor’s lawyer, in an email. “It is unfathomable that a Syracuse University student, who sought medical assistance for a simple sinus infection, wound up locked in a psychiatric ward for six days at St. Joseph’s Hospital without justification.”
In a statement, Matthew Larkin, an attorney for the university, said SU has reviewed the allegations and denies that it acted inappropriately “in any way.” He declined further comment due to medical privacy concerns and ongoing litigation.
Paul Hanrahan, a lawyer for St. Joseph’s, said the hospital does not comment on ongoing litigation.
In the lawsuit, Taylor says she visited Health Services around Sept. 19, 2013 because she was suffering from flu-like symptoms. While at Health Services she met with several people, including Clark Pinson, a staff therapist at SU, who is named in the lawsuit.
Pinson is still employed by the university, according to the SU directory. Based on her examination, Taylor was “pressured and directed” by SU staff and Pinson to go to St. Joseph’s emergency room immediately, according to the lawsuit.
Pinson drove Taylor to St. Joseph’s on Sept. 19, 2013, dropping her off on the sidewalk outside the Medical Emergency Room. In the emergency room, Taylor was examined by hospital staff and then transferred against her will to the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program section of St. Joseph’s, according to the lawsuit.
Taylor was kept in the CPEP for six days, from Sept. 19–24, 2013. During that time, her personal possessions were confiscated, she was unable to communicate with anyone outside the hospital and she was forced to take “inappropriate and dangerous medications,” according to the lawsuit. Taylor also received only limited examinations from hospital staff during her stay, the lawsuit states.
Due to her “unlawful, negligent and otherwise improper confinement,” the lawsuit says Taylor suffered many “personal indignities” as well as physical and emotional injuries.
Mental health services at SU
In a statement regarding the lawsuit, Rebecca Reed Kantrowitz, senior vice president and dean of student affairs, said Counseling Center staff follows all ethical and legal requirements and provides “the highest standard of care” to patients.
“We strongly support the medical professionals and staff in the center,” Kantrowitz said.
Improving mental health services at SU was one of the issues included in the document of demands and grievances presented to university administration by THE General Body, a coalition of student organizations that held an 18-day sit-in last semester. The university only has one psychiatrist on staff and THE General Body said resources at the Counseling Center should be improved.
In its response to THE General Body in November 2014, the university said it was in the process of hiring another “psychiatric provider” and that the search would likely be completed by the end of the fall semester. Since then, SU has hired an additional psychiatric nurse practitioner, Heidi Kinnally, who started in early January, said Kevin Quinn, SU senior vice president for public affairs.
The university also said in its initial response that the Counseling Center’s staff of 17 full-time clinicians fulfills the staff to student ratio required by its accrediting agency. But due to the large number of students using the center, the office could benefit from increased staffing, which would allow for longer office hours and more counseling sessions, the university noted.