A Grand Junction man this week sued Mind Springs Health, alleging employees weren’t trained to see that his wife’s alcohol withdrawal symptoms were escalating before her death.
Laurie Glover, 47, went to Mind Springs’ Grand Junction location in July 2020 for help through the alcohol detox process. She had a heart condition and a history of seizures during previous experiences with withdrawal, according to the lawsuit filed by her husband, Jeremiah Glover, in Mesa County District Court on Wednesday.
Stephanie Keister, a spokeswoman for Mind Springs, said the nonprofit, which provides mental health and addiction treatment for much of western Colorado, couldn’t confirm whether someone sought treatment there or comment in any way, due to confidentiality concerns.
Mind Springs has been the subject of a series of investigative reports by the Colorado News Collaborative, as well as a three-agency state audit released last month that found cases of dangerous prescribing and a failure to provide services needed in the communities they serve.
The audit, which did not identify problems with Mind Springs’ detox program, reported some progress on fixing those concerns, but said more needed to be done. Whistleblowers also reported they were ordered to send false reports about patients to the state.
According to the lawsuit, the Grand Junction facility used the Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment for Alcohol, which scores patients from zero (no problem) to seven (severe symptoms) on 10 measures: frequency of vomiting; skin sensations, like bugs crawling; auditory hallucinations; visual problems, ranging from feeling the light is excessively bright to hallucinations; disorientation; headaches; tremors in the arms and hands; sweating; anxiety; and excessive movement, like fidgeting or constant pacing.
A score of eight or less indicates relatively mild withdrawal; eight to 15 suggests moderate symptoms; and anything above 15 indicates severe symptoms, which could develop into delirium tremens without treatment, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Delirium tremens is a potentially life-threatening complication of withdrawal, and can cause seizures and irregular heartbeats. Some people also accidentally harm themselves because of severe confusion. It can happen two to four days after a person who has been drinking heavily for an extended time stops, but can be treated with medications.
Assessments showed Glover arrived at about 10:30 p.m. on July 23, 2020, and had a score of two at about 4 a.m. That increased to a seven at 8:30 a.m. and a 12 at about 12:30 p.m. The facility had a policy requiring staff to call for medical help if a patient’s score exceeded 10, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges staff weren’t taught how to use the assessment, however, and may not have scored Glover’s symptoms correctly. It also claims the facility waited about 20 minutes between recording a score of 12 and calling for emergency transport.
Whistleblowers who worked for Mind Springs reported they were asked to fill out assessments for patients they had never met, and to make it appear those people were getting better. They also were sometimes told to document that patients had certain disorders they didn’t have, in order to justify more expensive treatment. They primarily referred to progress reports required by the state, however, and it’s not clear if assessments for withdrawal were affected.
The next recorded assessment came from St. Mary’s Hospital, which found she had a score of 17 at about 2:30 p.m. About 15 minutes later, a doctor ordered two anti-seizure medications, but Glover had a seizure and went into cardiac arrest before receiving them. She was declared dead at 4:21 p.m. on July 24, 2020, about 18 hours after checking in for detox treatment.