Released by hospitals after a mental health crisis, their lives ended tragically

DETROIT (WXYZ) – A Detroit hospital’s decision to release a man just 6 hours after he tried to end his life is raising questions about other recent patient deaths that followed quick hospital discharges.

Since 2020, at least four psychiatric patients discharged to a DMC hospital following a mental health crisis have ended up dead – either by their own hands or after a violent altercation with police.

As 7 Action News first reported Thursday, 41-year-old Shawn Cohen was brought to Detroit Hospital in October after attempting to kill himself by swallowing two bottles of prescription pills.

Detroit police responded and asked Cohen to seek care at a busy hospital just off Woodward Avenue.

But just six hours after he tried to kill himself, Cohen was fired. The next day, he turned up at the same spot where he had previously tried to end his life, swallowed three bottles of pills and jumped into the Detroit River.

Unlike his first suicide attempt, this one was successful.

When Detroit police pulled Cohen’s body from the river, they found him carrying a backpack full of weights.

Hospitals like Detroit Receiving are the last resort for people like Shawn; the safety net to catch them when community services fail. But time and time again, patients who were admitted there were quickly discharged, only to encounter tragedy.

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Darien Walker struggled with mental illness and was taken to Detroit Receiving in July 2020, police said, after pointing a gun at a neighbor.

Within 24 hours of being admitted, he was released and later that month was seen wielding a sword and throwing daggers in broad daylight. When police responded, he attacked an officer and was shot and killed.

Three months later, Michael Moza checked into the Detroit Receiving Crisis Center, police said, after shooting up a home in Southwest Detroit.

A few hours later he was released, returned to the same home and opened fire again. When police responded, Moza led them on a chase that ended in his death.

Last June, 22-year-old Porter Burks was taken to Receiving’s sister hospital, Sinai Grace, after his family said he was trying to fight people in the street.

After being admitted, he escaped from Sinai Grace, was returned by the police and later fired. Three months later, Burks was killed by police after running at officers with a knife.

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Detroit Medical Center, which operates Detroit Receiving and Sinai Grace, declined to comment on patient discharges, citing patient privacy laws.

But they said patients “are only discharged when they are medically ready, based on detailed evaluation by the clinical care team”. When patients like Shawn die, the spokesman said, the hospital conducts an internal investigation.

“The system is broken,” said Detroit Police Chief James White. “We have to stop dancing around it and pointing out issues that I think could be real problems.”

When psychiatric patients die after hospital discharge, state watchdogs have to ask questions.

But as 7 Action News found in a series of reports in 2019 and 2020, they weren’t.

In 2020, that report prompted a new law requiring investigations when patients die by suicide or if the cause is unknown.

But today, the Department of Health and Human Services will not release anything about those investigations or their findings. Today, they won’t even reveal if Sean Cohen’s death was reported by the Detroit hospital.

“This is not a situation that should result in a ‘trust us’ from the government,” said Kyle Williams, legal director of Disability Rights Michigan, a nonprofit that protects the rights of people with disabilities.

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“We have a right to know how many of them are being investigated and we have a right to know what those investigations entail,” he said.

“And at the end of the day, we have a right to know that the state is going to do something about this, or tell us that this is not a problem.”

Williams says more hospital beds are not the answer; the best way to prevent tragedies like these is to invest in better community mental health services.

Other advocates say we need both.

Tonight, Sean Cohen’s family is no closer to understanding why the hospital released him when he so clearly needed help. If we don’t learn from what failed here, they ask, what prevents it from happening again?

“This is a very clear tragedy for this person and this family,” Williams said. “And this is a real failure of the mental health system.”

Contact 7 Researcher Ross Jones at [email protected] or at (248) 827-9466.


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