DETROIT (WXYZ) — A Detroit hospital’s decision to discharge a man only 6 hours after he tried to end his life is raising questions about other recent patient deaths that followed a quick hospital release.
Since 2020, at least four psychiatric patients discharged by a DMC hospital after a mental health crisis ended up dead—either by their own hand, or after a violent altercation with police.
As 7 Action News first reported Thursday, 41-year-old Sean Cohen was brought to Detroit Receiving Hospital in October after trying to commit suicide by swallowing two bottles of prescription pills.
Detroit police responded and had Cohen petitioned for care at the busy hospital just off Woodward Avenue.
But only six hours after he tried to kill himself, Cohen was discharged. The next day, he turned to the very same spot he tried to end his life before, swallowed three bottles of pills and jumped into the Detroit River.
Unlike his first attempt at suicide, this one was successful.
When Detroit police pulled Cohen’s body from the river, they found him wearing a backpack filled with weights.
Hospitals like Detroit Receiving are the last resort for people like Sean; the safety net that’s supposed to catch them when community services fail. But repeatedly, patients admitted there have been discharged quickly, only to be met with tragedy.
Darrien Walker struggled with mental illness and was taken to Detroit Receiving in July 2020, police say, 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 himself into Detroit Receiving’s crisis center, police say, after he shot at a home in Southwest Detroit.
He was released hours later, 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 Sinai Grace, was returned by police and was later discharged. Three months later, Burks was killed by police after running at officers with a knife.
The Detroit Medical Center, which operates Detroit Receiving and Sinai Grace, declined to comment on the patients’ discharges citing patient privacy laws.
But they said patients “are discharged only when they are medically ready, based on a detailed evaluation by the clinical care team.” When patients like Sean die, the spokesman said, the hospital conducts an internal investigation.
“The system is broken,” said Detroit Police Chief James White. “We’ve got to stop dancing around it and pointing to issues that I think could the real issue.”
When psychiatric patients die following a hospital release, state watchdogs are supposed to ask questions.
But as 7 Action News uncovered in a series of reports in 2019 and 2020, they weren’t.
In 2020, that reporting prompted new law requiring investigations when patients die by suicide, or if the cause is unknown.
But today, the Department of Health and Human Services won’t release anything about those investigations, or their findings. Today, they won’t even disclose if Sean Cohen’s death was reported by Detroit Receiving hospital.
“This is not a situation that should result in ‘trust us’ from the government,” said Kyle Williams, the legal director for Disability Rights Michigan, a non-profit that protects the rights of people with disabilities.
“We have a right to know how many of these are being investigated, and we have a right to know what those investigations entails,” he said.
“And at the end of the day, we have a right to know that the state’s going to do something about this, or to tell us that this isn’t a problem.”
Williams says that more hospitals beds aren’t the answer; the best way to prevent tragedies like these are to invest in better mental health services in the community.
Other advocates say we need both.
Tonight, Sean Cohen’s family is no closer to understanding why a hospital released him, when he so clearly needed help. If we don’t learn from what failed here, they ask, what’s stopping 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 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.