He removed his own eyeball in a psych hospital. His family couldn’t sue — until now

Roman Arustamyan can’t see the vacation decorations surrounding him, or his spouse and kids shuffling round in sweaters of their Van Nuys dwelling.

Arustamyan, 64, was recognized with a extreme psychological sickness greater than twenty years in the past. His household mentioned medicines helped the retired neurosurgeon preserve his signs in verify and keep principally wholesome — till 2013, when he eliminated considered one of his eyeballs throughout a keep at a neighborhood psychiatric hospital.

Three years later, Arustamyan badly broken his different eye throughout stays at two completely different hospitals, and it needed to be eliminated, the household mentioned.

Arustamyan is considered one of lots of of individuals throughout the state who’ve been injured whereas admitted to psychiatric hospitals in California over the previous decade, in keeping with a Occasions evaluation. A lot of the incidents had been attributable to low employees, employees errors and unsafe amenities, the evaluation discovered.

Affected person advocates say these issues proceed partially as a result of folks wrestle to convey lawsuits in opposition to hospitals for wrongdoing. Attorneys usually gained’t take the instances as a result of a California legislation limits payouts in medical malpractice fits a lot that even essentially the most favorable verdict wouldn’t cowl the price of years of litigation, they are saying.

However the Arustamyans’ attorneys discovered a solution to get across the cap and sued three hospitals for Roman’s accidents.

As an alternative of suing for medical malpractice, the attorneys tried a unique tack: A decide allowed them to sue for dependent grownup abuse, liberating them from the malpractice payout cap.

Jeff Rudman, president-elect of the Client Attorneys Assn. of Los Angeles, mentioned he had by no means heard of the technique being employed earlier than.

Arustamyan’s daughter, Seda, mentioned she hopes the lawsuits will open the door for different households to carry psychiatric hospitals accountable and hopefully will result in improved affected person care.

“How are you going to put an individual you’re keen on a lot in a hospital like that?” mentioned Seda, 33.

Ernest and Roman Arustamyan

Ernest Arustamyan gently shaves his father, Roman Arustamyan, at their dwelling in Van Nuys.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Roman and Seda Arustamyan

Seda Arustamyan, proper, helps her father stroll outdoors briefly after breakfast.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

In 1992, Roman and his spouse, Karine Arustamyan, left Armenia with their three youngsters after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Roman, who had been a neurosurgeon in Armenia, started working as a surgical technician in Skokie, In poor health. He additionally began finding out to turn into a licensed doctor in the USA.

However in 1995, he was recognized with bipolar dysfunction and needed to stop his job. The household moved to Los Angeles to be nearer to buddies who had additionally moved from Armenia.

For years, Roman lived comfortably at dwelling together with his household. He chatted with Seda concerning the volleyball staff she coached, watched soccer together with his son Ernest and performed together with his grandchildren. He would often be hospitalized for manic conduct, however medicines sometimes stored his situation — now recognized as schizoaffective dysfunction — beneath management.

In early 2013, throughout a visit to Armenia, he stopped taking his drugs and have become aggressive and agitated. Upon his return, he was hospitalized at BHC Alhambra Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Rosemead.

Every week later, Seda mentioned she acquired a name from the hospital: Her father had eliminated his eyeball.

“I used to be so confused by how one thing so excessive may occur within the care of a psychiatric hospital,” she mentioned.

Roman Arustamyan

Roman Arustamyan had been a neurosurgeon in Armenia. He and his spouse, Karine, left in 1992 after the autumn of the Soviet Union.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Occasions)

Eradicating one’s personal eye, often known as autoenucleation or self-enucleation, is a uncommon symptom of psychiatric sicknesses, mostly schizophrenia, in keeping with a 2007 assessment paper on the phenomenon. A earlier Occasions evaluation of self-harm incidents at California psychiatric amenities over the previous decade recognized at the least two sufferers who eliminated their eyes whereas admitted to the hospital.

The Arustamyans determined to sue BHC Alhambra, alleging that it failed to guard Roman.

A 1975 California legislation positioned a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice payouts aside from for medical payments and lack of future earnings. The legislation didn’t embrace will increase for inflation.

The legislation’s supporters say it prevents frivolous lawsuits and retains down medical doctors’ malpractice insurance coverage premiums. Affected person advocates argue the restrict has prevented legitimate instances from being introduced in opposition to hospitals.

In 2014, an unsuccessful state poll measure would have elevated the cap to $1.1 million — the unique quantity had it grown with inflation. Advocates at the moment are amassing signatures to attempt to put the same initiative on the 2020 poll.

“California is essentially the most progressive state in America, but it surely actually has essentially the most regressive medical negligence legal guidelines,” mentioned Jamie Court docket, president of the nonprofit Client Watchdog.

In the course of the trial final 12 months, the Arustamyans’ attorneys argued that the hospital had failed to present Roman his medicines the night time he harmed his eye. He was not monitored each 15 minutes as had been ordered, they mentioned.

At trial, the attention specialist who handled Arustamyan within the emergency room testified that he had eliminated his eye with such precision — one thing that solely a skilled surgeon may seemingly do — that it will need to have taken greater than an hour to take action, in keeping with court docket paperwork. The clear reduce that severed the optic nerve made it not possible to revive his imaginative and prescient, she testified.

“Your entire job is to stop one thing like this from occurring, that’s what they’re there to do,” legal professional Steve Vartazarian mentioned in an interview. “They only didn’t do it.”

In August 2018 a jury awarded the Arustamyans $772,000, in keeping with court docket paperwork. The jury didn’t discover that employees had acted with recklessness or malice.

In an announcement to The Occasions, hospital CEO Peggy Minnick mentioned there’s video proof that Arustamyan was checked on each 15 minutes, per hospital protocol. She additionally identified that state officers who reviewed the case didn’t cite the power for any violations.

“Each member of our staff of pros is devoted to supporting the well-being of our sufferers and their family members,” she mentioned. “Our work is pushed by our dedication to serving every individual with dignity and respect.”

Lawsuits in opposition to Adventist Well being Glendale and Royal Palms Convalescent Hospital in Glendale are pending.

The Arustamyans’ attorneys say in authorized papers that employees members at Adventist didn’t monitor Arustamyan carefully sufficient, permitting him to severely injure his eye, which then needed to be eliminated. He was later transferred to Royal Palms, the place he broken his eye socket, they are saying.

Adventist Well being spokeswoman Alicia Gonzalez mentioned in an announcement that hospital officers “disagree with the alleged information on this case” and are assured they “will set up that every one acceptable measures had been offered for affected person security and care.”

“We’re deeply dedicated to the protection and the properly being of all of our sufferers,” she mentioned.

An legal professional for Royal Palms mentioned he couldn’t touch upon the litigation.

Since he misplaced his sight, Roman spends most of his time resting. He requires assist with nearly any exercise, together with consuming and showering. He tried listening to soccer video games on TV with Ernest, however he turned pissed off. He didn’t like audio books for lengthy both.

Earlier than he turned unwell, he was a well-respected neurosurgeon. Throughout a serious earthquake in Armenia in 1988, Roman carried out mind surgical procedure on a 5-year-old lady whom others had declared useless, Karine mentioned. The lady’s household later requested him to be the kid’s godfather, she remembered.

Now, Seda and her siblings carefully observe scientific trials to revive sight to blind folks, and report the developments to their dad.

“He at all times is like, ‘I hope I’d be the primary candidate to have the ability to get that,’” Seda mentioned. “It’s so laborious to listen to him say that.”

Seda, an administrator at a neighborhood college, lately obtained engaged and is planning her marriage ceremony for subsequent 12 months. She begins to cry when she realizes that her dad won’t ever see her youngsters. Her mom, sitting beside her, places a hand on her shoulder and wipes tears from her personal eyes.

However nonetheless, Seda mentioned she is grateful her father is alive. On her marriage ceremony day, the 2 of them will trip in a horse and carriage to the marriage venue.

Then he’ll stroll her down the aisle.

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