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SC lawmakers say they may subpoena records on patient death

July 24, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers said Tuesday that they would subpoena records if they needed to as they review the death of a patient at a state mental hospital.

Legislators reviewing the Department of Mental Health sought more information during a regular hearing that turned into an effort to determine how William Avant suffocated at the bottom of a dogpile at a Columbia mental hospital in January.

Interim Director Mark Binkley told a House subcommittee that patient confidentiality rules prevent him from discussing Avant’s death.

The State newspaper uncovered a video showing Avant at the bottom of a pile of employees for four minutes after they tackled him when he attempted to break a window. The newspaper also obtained documents indicating that three of the 13 employees involved had not been trained to physically restrain patients.

State agents investigated the death and decided not to file charges.

Mental Health Department officials did answer general questions about training during Tuesday’s hearing, saying patients should not be restrained face down, employees should not lie on their chests or backs and a patient’s breathing must always be monitored while restrained.

Lawmakers tried to get information about Avant’s case without directly asking about it. Rep. Micah Caskey asked if the agency has fired any employees this year. Binkley said he believed so, but he did not know for sure because he didn’t make those decisions.

“We’re continuing a facade of not talking about an incident that provoked such reaction across the state,” said Caskey, a Republican from West Columbia.

Lawmakers also asked why some employees had not completed training.

Sandy Hyre, the Mental Health Department’s Director of Evaluation, Training and Research, said it is up to employee supervisors and not the training division to make sure workers finish their training.

The House subcommittee is conducting a routine review of the Mental Health Department, but said they will keep looking into Avant’s death, along with the Full House Oversight Committee.

Tuesday’s meeting opened with a moment of silence for Avant, 35.

“Bottom line, we will get all the answers that we seek, whether now or eventually,” said state Rep. Bill Taylor, a Republican from Aiken.

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Information from: The State, http://www.thestate.com

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