Petaluman recounts “devastating” experience at Santa Rosa Kaiser amid mental health crisis

So in late September, when his mania began to spiral again and he couldn’t see a therapist anytime soon, Miles decided to wait and see.

“The way I work internally still with my mental illness is I’ll just sit and stew with (my symptoms). I’m not really going to describe how I struggle,” Miles said. “I just don’t want to feel like I can inconvenience anyone or that they have to be responsible for how I’m doing.”

Two weeks later, nothing had improved, leading Miles to think that going to the emergency room would be the best option to alleviate his situation.

In the hospital

“We got to Kaiser in Santa Rosa and they were really busy, really busy,” said Miles’ mother Laurie, speaking in a phone interview less than a week after he went to the hospital. “And I’ll give them that. I was in the medical profession and I get it. I totally get it.”

After evaluating Miles, caregivers determined he was a “5150,” the section number of the California Social Care and Institutions Code when a patient is deemed to be an immediate danger to himself. Under state law, this allows healthcare professionals to place the patient under emergency 72-hour observation.

“They assigned him a security guard who sat there, sat with us for an hour with a metal detector,” Laurie said. “Then they tell me I have to wait in the waiting room because they’re going to put him in a chair in the hallway or on a gurney in the hallway and I can’t sit there with him. Only security can.

So Laurie proceeded to the waiting room, where she patiently stayed for hours before being sent home to await a call to update Miles’ condition. That call didn’t come until almost 24 hours later, she said.

Meanwhile, according to Miles, the guards rooming with him never used his metal detector.

“In the bag I had brought I had a journal and I think it’s common for people with a history of self-harm to hide things they use to do it. And I do that, I have a very big history in that,” Miles said.

“And in my diary I was hiding razor blades that I had forgotten about, but they were still there. And what I can only assume happened – because they weren’t taken from me, because they weren’t found – I had seen them and that, in my manic state, set me off.”

Being in a manic state, the next thing Miles clearly remembered was the deep gash in his throat and the panicked hospital staff discovering what had happened.

Miles said it was midnight at the time, and although the cut was not life-threatening, the doctor advised he would need stitches. But Miles didn’t see anyone again to get those stitches for another six sleepless hours, he said.

“It was the longest six hours of my entire life,” Miles said. “I was left alone in the room. Not a single nurse came in to talk to me. I think at that point I was left alone because I might have been considered a danger to others. I don’t know, but it hurt me a lot because I knew I wanted to talk to people at that moment, but I didn’t get it.

What also frustrated him was that the hospital staff gave him Seroquel, a drug used to treat mood and mental illness. It is also known to give Miles negative side effects such as extreme sleepiness and difficulty breathing.

He said he instructed medical staff not to give it to him during check-in when they ask patients if they are allergic to any medications.

“That’s the one thing I told you not to do and you did it,” Miles said. “I felt out of cycle for the next week, couldn’t remember the time or date. And I’m sure the stress on top of that didn’t help. It was just very disappointing all around. It was terrifying.”

When asked about this incident, Kaiser representative McCall reiterated Kaiser’s statement that they would not comment on specific cases.

After a day at Kaiser, Miles was transferred to a stabilization facility, also in Santa Rosa, where he stayed for two days before going to St. Francis Memorial in San Francisco for three weeks. Miles said that after the incident at Santa Rosa Kaiser Hospital, his status was upgraded to “5250,” extending his hold period to at least two weeks.

The strike is over

On Oct. 21, Kaiser reached a four-year agreement with its labor union that “will enable greater collaboration aimed at improving access to mental health care,” the provider said in a statement at the time.

“We appreciate our therapists’ confidence in this agreement, which addresses their concerns while upholding Kaiser Permanente’s commitment that any agreement must protect and improve access to mental health care for our members,” Kaiser said in a statement. “We are delighted to have all of our staff back caring for their patients.”

Not all details of the agreement were clear, such as whether Kaiser would guarantee weekly therapy to members in need — something Miles said may have made for a much better experience during his latest episode.

“I do not benefit from irregular monthly therapy. I will do better in weekly therapy,” he said.

Now out of St. Francis and back in Petaluma, Miles is looking to start his first semester at Santa Rosa Junior College as a nursing student. His dream of becoming a medical professional was inspired by his own experiences – not only with mental health, but also with physical health, after growing up with an injury caused at birth that eventually led to the amputation of one of his arms.

“Some of the best times I’ve had medically have been with my nurses, getting to know my nurses,” he said.

“People deserve adequate, equal health care, and being on the other side of not getting it made it glaringly obvious that there was work to be done.”

Amelia Parreira is an Argus-Courier contributor. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.

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