A case of national legal, social and behavioral health regulatory significance has hit the courts down here in South Florida and, while the facts are truly heartbreaking, it seems that the crux of the issue is the State of Florida’s continued lack of cooperation amongst the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Families relating to licensing and regulation of health care providers.
The case, filed last Friday, May 27, 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is styled Katherine Frink-Hamlett v. Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, Lifescape Solutions, and Into Action Treatment Center, Case No. 9:2017cv80676.
Within the case, Mrs. Frink-Hamlett, as the Administrator of the estate of her deceased son, is asserting that Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches (BHOP) wrongfully referred her son, Timothy Hamlett, to Lifescape Solutions, and Lifescape wrongfully referred Timothy to Into Action Treatment.
However, this matter has ramifications much deeper than a simple lawsuit. It is an unintended indictment of the entire behavioral health treatment industry nationally, and how the regulatory framework continues to fail our children, families, friends, loved ones, and fellow citizens.
On Friday, May 26, 2017, Mrs. Katherine Frink-Hamlett, Esq., a lawyer herself from the New York area, caused the lawsuit to be filed after the 2014 suicide of her son. However, Mrs. Frink-Hamlett and her son were not just “average” citizens.
Katherine is the owner and founder of Frink-Hamlett Legal Solutions, a female, African-American owned legal placement firm “that provides exceptional legal professionals on a permanent and consulting basis” and whose clients include “large law firms and Fortune 500 corporations as well as mid-size to small firms and corporate law departments.”
Katherine herself graduated from NYU Law School in 1991. She is also the former President of the NYU Law Alumni Association Board (2008-2010) and former Vice-Chairperson of the Committee of Women in the Law of the New York State Bar Association (2008-2010). She has been a contributing book reviewer for the prestigious New York Law Journal, and featured author of The New York Law Journal Magazine’s “Diversity in Action” column. She has been a frequent speaker on inclusion and diversity issues within the legal industry.
A Parent’s Plea for Help.
The story has both a sad beginning and ending, for the hopes and dreams of an otherwise promising young man and athlete were dashed due to the national behavioral system in crisis, which we just reported about yesterday.
According to a story which ran in the NY Daily News back on January 2, 2015, Timothy Hamlett was a then-20-year-old former Ivy League track star at UPenn who went missing on Dec. 26, 2014 from his parents’ home in Bergen County, N.J.
Prior to this time, Timothy appears to have been sent to various South Florida drug and alcohol treatment centers for marijuana misuse, when by all accounts, everyone was aware that he had suicidal tendencies which only arose after a collegiate sport injury and his use of herbal supplements.
Katherine notified Teaneck Police of her son’s disappearance after the family hadn’t heard from him in several days, she said.
More specifically, Timothy’s mother and father, Archibald, removed Timothy, a junior philosophy major, from school after noticing a change in his mood.
He stopped being his normal social self and became aggressive and closed-in, she said.
“He was experiencing some issues that suggest his behavior had become inconsistent with whom we knew him to be,” Katherine said, including criminal charges for aggravated assault and criminal mischief for allegedly throwing bricks at four homes and nine cars in Teaneck in May.
In 2015, his parents revealed how they saw their son change dramatically.
In an interview provided to The Daily Beast, the family told about how Timothy’s parents believe their son’s mental state fell into a tailspin because of an addiction to energy supplements, many of which include male enhancement pills.
“Our son did not experience any issues until he started taking these supplements,” Katherine Hamlett said. “And people look at us cross-eyed and I know there’s a lot of skepticism. But if you look at the history he goes all the way through school—no issues whatsoever and then he starts taking these supplements and everything in his life, literally everything in his life changes.”
Before he vanished, Hamlett was a promising junior majoring in philosophy at University of Pennsylvania and thriving as a lightning-footed sprinter “with his whole life in front of him.”
Dressed in an Adidas track jacket, True Religion jeans, and sneakers, Hamlett left his house at around 6:30 p.m. on a leafy block in Teaneck, New Jersey, a day after Christmas. He told his parents that he was off to visit a friend nearby. Instead, he planned on visiting another friend across Hudson River in Manhattan. Hamlett headed over the George Washington Bridge on a jitney. He hadn’t been seen since entering Manhattan.
As they waited for closure, Archibald and Katherine Hamlett began combing through their son’s life.
A key moment that quickly emerged: September 2013, when Timothy Hamlett began buying all kinds of supplements off Amazon and eBay.
Edgar Miller, deputy director of Johns Hopkins Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, told The Daily Beast that psychosis from such herbs can’t be discounted. “Do a fistful of herbs and spices and supplements cause a psychosis? I don’t know these particular supplements,” he said. “It sounded like some of them might be hormonally active and then the question is can hormones cause problems like that? Possibly.”
Before Timothy Hamlett got hooked on the pills, he was known to have an intoxicating personality. “His social skills are top-notch,” Katherine Hamlett, a 50-year-old attorney, said. “He had an edge about him and a wit and a style… There was no one that he could not engage and make them feel comfortable in their space. I don’t care what demographic, ethnicity or race.”
Then, after popping supplements for a year, the wisecracking Hamlett disconnected. “Something wasn’t right,” his mother said. “Now we’re looking at a person who is isolated. This was a supplement-induced psychosis.”
Initially, Timothy Hamlett was supplement-free. But that changed, his father said, when he ran a particularly competitive indoor championship track meet.
During this 2013 race Timothy Hamlett took a spill and was spiked by a rogue Harvard College runner, his parents said.
“Someone from Harvard spiked him,” his mother added. “I can remember him distinctly calling me saying ‘I got injured. They’re taking care of me. But I got spiked.’”
The injury left a six-inch gash on his left leg between Hamlett’s knee and thigh. Archibald Hamlett is convinced his son was “stepped on twice” at full speed.
The injury was a significant moment for Timothy Hamlett. Soon after Hamlett was on supplements like cordyceps, which is a fungus extracted from caterpillars in elevated parts of China. His father asked his son why he was taking it and the son replied, “It’s not banned.”
Hamlett recovered from the spike incident and ran the outdoor season that year but the rigors of the racing took a toll. “After taking the cordyceps my son starting believing in these supplements and what he was doing,” said Archibald Hamlett, a 55-year-old retired Port Authority cop. At first the diet seemed to be working. “He had gone from high school running a two-minute 800-meter to almost three years of training in less than a year,” the elder Hamlett added.
The pep delivered by supplements were one thing. But so was the expectations of the coach. Under the attention, Hamlett switched from the 400 meter race the to 800 meter. “He looked at Timothy as a prodigy and was expecting a lot out of him. And he was expecting a lot out of himself. That’s why he changed from the 400 to the 800. That’s a lot of pressure.”
When Timothy Hamlett began missing practice and his grades dipped his father says he tried to intervene to get him to kick the pills. “I tried to get him a therapist and they performed a diagnosis,” Archibald said.
The family ordered an MRI to determine if Timothy Hamlett had a potential brain cyst, but the results were inconclusive.
And despite the therapist and help his parents supplied their son, he mostly shrugged it off.
All the while, Hamlett’s emotional imbalance ranged from hostile to aimless. “He was talking to a friend he’s known since freshman year and asking him ‘What’s your name? What’s your major?’” his mother recalled. “Then later in the conversation he asks again, ‘What’s your major?’”
Another instance involved Timothy Hamlett in almost a manic state and showcasing schizophrenic symptoms. “He’s not engaging with his roommates. And he’s staying in the bathroom for long amounts of time. And talking to himself.”
Ultimately they yanked their son out of the Ivy League institution to come home and get help.
Upon a recommendation from UPenn, the family sent Timothy to BHOP.
Once home, Timothy Hamlett was dealing with past lapses. He was defending against criminal mischief and aggravated assault charges after getting nabbed back in May for allegedly riding his bicycle and chucking bricks at multiple homes and several parked cars around his Teaneck neighborhood. “There was a backpack he was wearing on the night he was stopped and it had a residue that when we sent it out to the state lab came back positive,” Teaneck Police Detective Lt. Andrew McGurr told The Daily Beast.
Property damage alone was serious but the brick-tossing spree also struck a woman who was “laying on her couch” in her house and was injured from the shards of shattered glass or a broken piece of mortar. “She was hit in the face causing a laceration right above the eye,” McGurr said.
Asked whether the impending charges, which were awaiting a grand jury hearing, could have caused Hamlett to abscond and be the cause for his then-disappearance, his lawyer said impossible. “This is not the case you run from.”
On May 29, 2015, Timothy’s body was found in the river beneath the George Washington Bridge in NY of apparent suicide.
A Lack of Services.
When Timothy started college, his parents had “that” discussion with him about alcohol, sex and drugs. She never thought to talk to him about mental illness. Why would she? He was a gifted student-athlete and had many friends. For two years, he ran track and field, impressing his coaches and fellow teammates at the University of Pennsylvania.
But things started to change in the beginning of his sophomore year. Frink-Hamlett says she immediately sought help for her son, but they were unable to use UPenn’s Counseling and Psychological Services. The reason, she says, was because she couldn’t make the appointments for her son, which is against UPenn rules, and the office hours did not accommodate his aggressive academic and practice schedules.
Instead, the concerned parents sought the help of private mental health professionals for their son.
Not long after, Frink-Hamlett learned that her son had been removed from the track team after missing practices. The worried mother pulled her son from school to take a leave of absence in September 2014.
Last year, the Hamlett family celebrated Christmas together at their home in Teaneck, N.J. The following day, Timothy Hamlett left. He would never return.
“I wish I did know more about it in hindsight.” Frink-Hamlett told Aljazeera America’s Tonight. “As his mother, I think I had to bear the ultimate responsibility for what happens to my son.”
On May 29, police discovered his body in the Hudson River and ruled his death a suicide after reportedly jumping from the George Washington Bridge.
Frink-Hamlett sat down with America Tonight just five months after learning of her only child’s death, still lacking answers as to why he made the unthinkable choice.
“It never crossed my mind that my child would die by suicide and it never dawned on me that he would jump off a bridge,” she said. “The stereotype of what suicide looks like is not really what it is. The image of who will complete suicide is so different and I’m learning this now.”
While the complaint filed by Mrs. Frink-Hamlett (a copy of which can be obtained here) seems to place most of the blame upon the coaches and educators at UPenn, it is also a parent’s desparate cry for some semblance of healthcare response to those with unforeseen and unexpected mental health issues which arise later in life, and for which the “system” is ill-prepared to address, nor does it want to.