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Mother Sues County Over Death

6 Nov 2004

By Michelle Roberts

Summary: The suit blames Multnomah and Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare for the 2002 death of a severely mentally ill woman

A federal advocacy group has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Multnomah County and the state's largest mental health provider after a severely mentally ill woman was found dead in a motel bathtub shortly after being kicked out of her group home.

The suit, filed this week in Multnomah County Circuit Court, alleges that Lynn Menashe, 52, drowned on Nov. 15, 2002, inside a Southeast Portland motel room after she was left there alone even though she was too ill to take care of herself.

Menashe died because workers at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare Inc. failed to hospitalize her after she was evicted from a residential care center, the suit contends. Cascadia, the largest mental health agency in the state, contracts with the county to provide case management to thousands of mentally ill Oregonians.

The suit, filed by the federally funded Oregon Advocacy Center on behalf of Menashe's mother, Ruth Menashe, seeks as much as $3 million in damages.

The parties named in the lawsuit declined to comment on the specific allegations Friday.

"It's a tragic circumstance when any of our clients dies, but based on confidentiality and the fact that it's pending litigation, we can't say anything more right now," said Mark Schorr, a Cascadia spokesman.

Patrick Henry, an assistant Multnomah County attorney, said, "We've just begun the process of investigating, but it's a lawsuit we plan to vigorously defend against."

Menashe, who suffered from schizoaffective disorder since her late teens, had lived in supported living situations for more than 20 years and had a long history of inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations.

From 1999 until October 2002, she lived at William Elaine, a 24-hour, licensed, residential-care center in Southeast Portland for people with severe mental illnesses. In addition to helping Menashe keep track of her medications, group home workers also helped her with daily living skills, including managing her Social Security money, eating, dressing and bathing.

"She required 24-hour supervision in order to remain stable," the lawsuit states.

On Sept. 25, 2002, Menashe received a notice to vacate after her condition deteriorated, resulting in disruptive behavior at the home. According to the suit, Menashe became uncooperative with staff, entered other patients' rooms, urinated on herself, smeared feces in the bathroom and on her clothing and refused to bathe.

By evicting Menashe, home staff thought that Cascadia, responsible for Menashe's treatment, would hospitalize her, the suit states.

Instead, Menashe's caseworkers sent her to Harbor Lights, a homeless shelter operated by the Salvation Army, according to the complaint. While there, her mental health continued to deteriorate. Her condition was so bad that on Nov. 5, 2002, her case manager noted that Menashe did not recognize her for several minutes. On Nov. 12, 2002, Menashe was told she would have to leave Harbor Lights within the next three days.

"Harbor Lights staff stated that she was confused and disorganized and had smeared feces in the bathroom," the suit states. "The case manager also noted that Menashe did not appear to be tracking place and time and that her eyes appeared glazed over. . . . Again, Ms. Menashe was not hospitalized."

On Nov. 14, 2002, two workers transported Menashe to the Best Value Motel and checked her into a room.

"At the time she was left in the hotel room unattended, Ms. Menashe appeared disoriented to time and place, had very poor hygiene and was not taking her medications," the suit states. "She was instructed to take her medications, bathe and go to the nearby restaurant for her meals. . . . This was the first time Ms. Menashe had been left alone overnight in twenty years."

The next morning, according to the lawsuit, a Cascadia worker tried to place Menashe at a respite-care facility, which refused to take her because of the severity of her illness, recommending instead that she be hospitalized. Menashe's caseworker notified a Cascadia supervisor that staff at the respite center had recommended that Menashe be hospitalized. But she was not, according to the suit.

On the same day, the worker returned to the hotel room to follow-up with Menashe. When she walked in, the temperature in the motel room was extremely high, "as hot as a sauna," the suit states. Menashe was found dead in the bathtub with a few inches of water remaining in the tub.

Ruth Menashe, who lives in Southwest Portland, said she had long been involved in her daughter's care and was never told that her daughter was moved to a motel. She learned about it when the medical examiner called to inform the family that her daughter was dead.

She said that if she is successful in her suit, she will donate the money to a mental health agency in another county.

"I am not going to touch one penny," Ruth Menashe said Friday. "I will donate it all. What I want is awareness of what happens to mentally ill people in this state."

Michelle Roberts: 503-294-5041;

© 2004 Oregonian Publishing Co. All rights reserved. Used with permission of The Oregonian.

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