South Carolina patient sued state agency to be discharged before his death

The South Carolina patient who died of suffocation in January after staff members improperly restrained him had previously sued the state's mental health department over his release, reports The State.

A nonprofit advocacy group filed the lawsuit in May 2017 on behalf of six patients at Bryan Psychiatric Hospital, including William Avant. The 35-year-old patient died earlier this year after seven staff members piled on top of him and failed to monitor his breathing. His death was ruled a homicide.

The suit claimed the South Carolina Department of Mental Health failed to provide the treatment and services necessary for patients to live independently in the community.  Instead, the department "unnecessarily or illegally" institutionalized patients for long stays at its mental health hospitals, the suit alleged.

The department settled the lawsuit in February, about a month after Mr. Avant's death. State officials agreed to improve community-based treatment options and work toward quicker patient discharges.

"This agreement came about because both the department and [Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities] want comprehensive public mental health services to be available for any citizen, young or old, wherever they live in South Carolina, whenever they need those services," Mark Binkley, interim department director, said in an April 15 statement announcing the settlement.

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