Alarms blared inside the locked, fifth-floor psychiatric unit at Summa St. Thomas Hospital at 6 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2017.

A male nurse told McKenzie Crouse — an 18-year-old Akron woman who voluntarily admitted herself hours earlier after considering suicide — that the North Hill facility was on fire and that he would return for her once he found out what they should do, according to her family.

The nurse, however, never came back, according to a lawsuit filed this month against Summa and those who treated Crouse.

She was ultimately evacuated safely from the fire, but she was found dead three days later. She died by suicide.

Her mother, as administrator of Crouse’s estate, is suing for malpractice, claiming her daughter received inadequate treatment that ultimately led to her death.

“McKenzie committed suicide by hanging after she had been released by Summa after a sleepless and terrifying night being trapped in a burning hospital locked psych ward alone and not receiving any substantive treatment from Summa,” the lawsuit said. She hanged herself “just as she told Summa prior to her initial admission that she would do.”

Attorney Edward J. Heben Jr. is representing Crouse’s mother, Kelly Panezott. Because of the pending litigation, he did not let a reporter talk to Panezott about her daughter or what happened.

Summa Health, likewise, declined to answer questions. Hospital system spokesman Mike Bernstein said “Summa does not comment on pending litigation and in accordance with privacy laws we do not publicly discuss patients or their medical records.”

This story about Crouse is instead based on the medical malpractice lawsuit filed in Summit County Common Pleas Court, Crouse’s obituary, the Summit County Medical Examiner's autopsy report and information gleaned from the social media accounts of Panezott, Crouse’s friends and Crouse herself.

Asking for help

Crouse texted her mom about 7 p.m. Thursday Oct. 12, 2017, saying she was depressed and suicidal and wanted to go to the hospital.

Panezott was happy Crouse recognized she needed help. She picked up her daughter and took her to the emergency department at Summa Akron City about an hour later, where a triage worker asked Crouse if she had made any plans about how she would kill herself.

“At first, McKenzie states that she had no suicide actual plan but later McKenzie informed the triage person that in fact she had a plan, that she would hang herself,” the lawsuit said.

Crouse told the triage worker she tried hanging herself 21 months earlier, on Jan. 9, 2016, when she was about 16 years old, but the electric cord she used snapped, saving her life.

Panezott also told Summa employees that her daughter had a history of suicidal thoughts and and self-abuse involving “cutting.” (Cutting, many psychologist say, often starts in someone’s teenage years and involves making small cuts to the skin to replace emotional pain with physical pain.)

Crouse received counseling, but it's unclear for how long.

In the City Hospital ER, Crouse was diagnosed with “acute depression with suicidal ideation,” and a psychiatrist estimated she should spend “more than two midnights” in locked treatment, the lawsuit said.

Crouse told her mom she wasn’t nervous and was happy that she was going to get help.

At 4:15 a.m., about eight hours after they arrived at City Hospital, Crouse was transferred to St. Thomas for psychiatric treatment and Panezott went home to get ready for work, which started at 6:30 a.m.

Passion for singing

Most of Crouse’s friends called her “Crouse” or “Kenzie.”

As a younger girl, she wore her dark hair long and, at least for awhile, was a cheerleader. As an older teen, Crouse loved to paint, worked at a Circle K store and came out as part of the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community.

Throughout those years, her passion for singing — and the praise she often earned for it — was a constant.

“I hope you get famous,” someone wrote to Crouse on one of the dozen or so videos posted online showing Crouse fearlessly belting songs about love and heartbreak by pop stars like Sam Smith, Martina McBride and Bruno Mars.

Sometimes, others shot video of her singing on a school stage. Other times, Crouse filmed herself singing at home for her YouTube channel, which she launched about five years ago.

In the last video she posted, Crouse’s hair is cut short and she's wearing a flannel shirt over a T-shirt.  She wrote a message saying she looked like a “bum,” but wanted to update her YouTube channel.

Crouse covers Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love,” which is a cover of a Bob Dylan original about unconditional love.

“When the rain is blowing in your face

And the whole world is on your case

I could offer you a warm embrace

To make you feel my love…”

Crouse didn’t say who she was singing to, if anyone at all. But when the song ended, she smiled broadly enough to make her dimples pop as she turned off the camera.

Hospital evacuation

Crouse called her mom about 6 a.m. from a pay phone in the day room of a locked psychiatric unit at St. Thomas shortly after the fire alarms started in October 2017.

She told her mom — who had been up all night with Crouse waiting to be admitted to St. Thomas — that a nurse said he would come back for her.

Crouse and her mom hung up and a short time later, Crouse called Panezott back. This time, Crouse was “crying hysterically and said that she had been left behind during the evacuation,” according to the lawsuit.

Outside St. Thomas Hospital, Akron firefighters had converged for a 3-alarm blaze in a basement storage area. Staff from Summa and Crystal Clinic, an orthopedic hospital that rents space from Summa St. Thomas, were evacuating patients.

Panezott, fearful for her daughter, called St. Thomas and told the staff that they had forgotten her daughter on the fifth floor.

“At first the hospital representative stated that the building had been totally evacuated, but later stated that she would send an officer up to see and rescue McKenzie if she was locked in there,” the lawsuit said.

At the same time, Panezott’s boyfriend drove to St. Thomas. By the time he got there and found someone to speak with, he was told that all psychiatric patients had been transported to Akron City’s ER.

It is not clear when Crouse was evacuated, but Panezott’s boyfriend found her in a room at Akron City sometime after 8 a.m. where, the lawsuit said, she was “apparently on a suicide observation watch.”

Crouse cried “hysterically and uncontrollably,” the lawsuit said.

Sometime later, a psychiatrist visited and talked with Crouse for five to 10 minutes, the lawsuit said. The psychiatrist — despite a different psychiatrist's earlier expectation that Crouse would remain hospitalized for "more than two midnights" — said he was discharging her.

The psychiatrist told Crouse he would be on vacation for the next week, but told her to make an appointment in two weeks to see him, the lawsuit said.

Crouse didn’t challenge the discharge after the fire.

“What do you think she’s going to say, lock me up again?” said her mother's attorney, Heben.

Her mom’s boyfriend dropped Crouse off at her mom’s house about 11 a.m. Friday.

On Saturday, Panezott took Crouse back to St. Thomas to pick up the things she left behind during the fire.

And on Monday, Crouse was dead, a suicide note tucked inside the pocket of the cargo pants she was wearing.

 

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @agarrettABJ.