ALLENTOWN, Pa. (CN) - A father claims Allentown State Hospital hired a nurse's aide with a history of "self-mutilation, specifically cutting herself and swallowing objects," and she persuaded his daughter to swallow four 1-inch nails, telling her it "would assist in her feeling better."
Charles Ortiz sued the state hospital, the nurse's aide, Athena Marie Sidlar, and nine hospital employees, including the CEO, in Federal Court. He says his daughter suffered a lacerated esophagus from swallowing the nails.
Ortiz says the hospital, which recently closed, showed "reckless and callous indifference" to his daughter's needs when it failed to recognize that Sidlar, "who from time to time had been treated with Klonopin, Seroquel, Thorazine, Trazodone and Zoloft," was not fit to work at a mental health facility.
The dad says Sidlar encouraged his daughter, Raquel, who suffered from "long-standing, chronic psychiatric illness" to swallow nails that Sidlar brought to work with her and to mutilate herself.
Ortiz says the including a supervisor and a licensed psychologist, failed to take action after witnessing Sidlar's dangerous practice of self-disclosure to patients, a bad habit that could induce "delusional thoughts concerning how best to treat their own mental health condition."
Ortiz claims Allentown and its staff "ignored the fact that there had been an increase in patients swallowing objects in the months that preceded the swallowing incident involving" his daughter. In fact, he says, "a clinical supervisor at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg had inquired how long Athena Marie Sidlar had been employed at the Allentown State Hospital because Lehigh Valley Hospital at Muhlenberg had seen an increase in patients wallowing foreign objects in the months that preceded the incident involving plaintiff Raquel Ortiz."
The father says Allentown essentially ignored Sidlar's "grossly inappropriate contact with patients." He says that after his daughter swallowed the four nails, under persuasion of Sidlar, days after she cut herself with a broken compact disc, the hospital allowed the two to remain in close contact, even though Sidlar "had advised personnel that she had cut herself intentionally on the way home from work."
The complaint adds that about a year before Ortiz swallowed the nails, Sidlar had called in sick "indicating that she would require out-patient surgery because she 'had swallowed something accidentally.'"
Pennsylvania State Police eventually investigated, and Sidlar was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person, Ortiz said. Sidlar pleaded guilty to the third charge.
Charles and Raquel Ortiz seek damages for negligence and civil rights violations. Defendants include Allentown State Hospital's former CEO Gregory Smith. The Ortizes are represented by Sean McDonough with Dougherty, Leventhal & Price, of Moosic, Pa.
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