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Mental health clinic sued for allegedly forcing a patient to “take drugs against his will”



A former patient is suing his doctor and a Rockland County mental health clinic alleging that a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia led to his receiving medication that triggered a neurological disorder.


The legal complaint, submitted to a New York Courthouse in Rockland County, revolves around a case representing Gamachu Asfaw, a male identified as "George." Dr. Enrique Teuscher, associated with the Mental Health Association of Rockland County, assessed Mr. Asfaw on August 2, 2018. The complaint alleges that he experienced a violation of his liberty, resulting in the development of tardive dyskinesia, a condition characterized by involuntary movements, commonly affecting the face and mouth but potentially extending to the limbs.


George was ordered to undergo Assistant Outpatient Treatment where Dr. Evelyn Wassermann took over and continued the recommendation from Dr. Teuscher and kept prescribing the allegedly unneeded drug. However, George’s legal team insists that the plaintiff exhibited no discernible symptoms consistent with schizophrenia and that the diagnosis was egregiously inaccurate.


Furthermore, the legal courtroom filing states “agents of the Mental Health Association of Rockland County would come to George’s residence and make sure he was taking these drugs against his will.” The patient's living situation warranted these in-home visits, yet there was no commentary from the individuals involved to clarify the reasons.


The legal documents claim that “George’s side effects continued to grow more pronounced due to the antipsychotic drugs he was forced to take, but the defendants refused to listen to him, continued to fail to administer the proper tests, and continued to negligently prescribe these drugs.”


Several attempts were made to contact Dr. Teuscher, Dr. Wassermann, the Mental Health Association of Rockland County, and their respective law firms for statements, but they did not respond to the requests for comments.


The court filing indicated that Dr. Teuscher's legal team tried to have the case dismissed by citing the statute of limitations regarding the timing of his initial treatment of George. The relevant law, which specifies that “An action for medical, dental or pediatric malpractice must be commenced within 2 years and 6 months of the act,” was referenced by counsel. They argued, “There are no allegations that indicate Dr. Teuscher treated the patient at any time after that discreet visit of August 2, 2018.” However, the judge did not grant the dismissal of the case. Additionally, Dr. Wassermann, who continued to treat George after this date, is involved in the lawsuit.


George's legal team had also been reached out to, with an interview set up to provide an on-the-record interview regarding this case. Nevertheless, George had a change of heart and decided to cancel the meeting just minutes before its scheduled time.


According to the complaint, “only after George was able to get multiple doctors to write that he did not have schizophrenia, that his history was not consistent with schizophrenia, that he should be prescribed antipsychotic drugs, and that he was being overprescribed antipsychotic drugs, and that this had caused him to develop tardive dyskinesia did George finally escape Mental Health Association of Rockland County, Inc’s, Dr. Teuscher’s and Dr. Wassermann’s ‘treatment.’”


In June 2019, George was relieved from taking the unnecessary antipsychotic drug, ten months after commencing his treatment. He alleges in his complaint that it was too late to prevent the severe side effects that ensued; George now experiences severe involuntary movements, tics, and facial grimaces, all of which are symptoms of his neurological disorder.


At the center of this controversy is the antipsychotic medication Zyprexa, also known as Olanzapine, first prescribed to George by Dr. Teuscher. The directions for consuming this drug advise to “Visit your care team for regular checks on your progress. Tell your care team if symptoms do not start to get better or if they get worse,” and warn to “not stop taking except on your care team's advice.”


The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges the risk of tardive dyskinesia associated with long-term Olanzapine use. Various other reports have confirmed Olanzapine's potential to induce tardive dyskinesia, demonstrating that George's case is not an isolated incident.


Advocating for a multimodal approach to predict psychiatric treatment outcomes as the most effective method, Dr. Zhe Chen, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, highlights the potential of combining new imaging with behavior assessment, and even neuromodulation. "Multimodal diagnosis could be the way to go," he suggests.


Dr. Chen delves into the significance of tracking speech through computer vision. He explains that this approach involves recording a patient's face and monitoring facial expressions to enhance diagnostic accuracy, thereby aiding physicians in making more precise diagnoses.


Emphasizing the challenge of balancing cost and efficiency in delivering mental health services, Dr. Chen explains, "Neuroimaging assessments are more objective and obviously more costly, so this will be the challenge in the mental health space, whether we can balance between cost and how to deliver these mental health services efficiently to the patient.”


The next court date is scheduled for October 24, 2023. Nevertheless, a letter in the case file, authored by Dr. Enrique's lawyer and submitted to the judge on September 15, 2023, stated, “if there were to be a settlement on behalf of Dr. Teuscher, it would be a small amount.”


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