The family of an Anchorage man diagnosed with bipolar disorder is suing Providence Alaska Medical Center, for what they say was an improper release from treatment which led to his disappearance and death.

Attorneys for Joe Orand's family filed a March 15 lawsuit against Providence and half a dozen staff members, including licensed professional counselor Muranda Griggs. In a nine-page complaint seeking compensation for the family's pain, suffering and emotional distress, they claim the defendants had a duty to provide Orand "a proper psychiatric evaluation and failed to do so.”

Providence provided this emailed statement on the lawsuit:

Providence is unable to provide information on pending litigation. Additionally, under state and federal patient privacy laws and out of respect for our patients and family members, Providence cannot discuss specifics regarding patient care.

However, we are always concerned for the safety and welfare of our patients. All persons evaluated by the Emergency Department for a mental health concern receive a full psychological health assessment and a full physical health assessment. If the patient is deemed stable, they are discharged with an appropriate follow-up care plan.

 

Last seen alive

Orand's body was found, unclothed, near the intersection of Dowling Road and the New Seward Highway in February 2018. The 53-year-old, who went by "Grant," was first reported missing three months earlier on Nov. 19, 2017 when he was released from Providence Hospital following a bipolar episode. 

Anchorage police later said that when Providence released Orand he was given a voucher for a taxi ride home, but Orand didn't have his house key. The cab driver was taking Orand back to the hospital when police said he jumped out of the car about a block away, at Tudor Road and Checkmate Drive. 

Jolene, Orand's mother, says he was probably delusional at the time and may have believed the cab driver posed a threat to his safety. 

That was the last time he was seen alive.

Hospitalizations for psychotic behavior 

According to the complaint, Orand had been in-and-out of Providence and Alaska Psychiatric Institute a month before his disappearance, with more than 10 psychiatric hospitalizations for psychotic behavior that began with Orand cutting his neck with a kitchen knife. He was treated for that injury on Oct. 17, 2017 at Providence and transferred to API.

A Psychiatric Observation Discharge Impression (PODI) from Providence staff stated that Orand was diagnosed with substance abuse, psychosis, non-adherence to treatment and impulsivity. 

On Nov. 4, Orand was admitted to Providence for suicidal and homicidal ideation, as well as hypertension. A mental health specialist at the hospital wrote that "given [Orand's] history of impulsive unsafe behavior... it is prudent to continue with further evaluation... imminent suicide risk level at discharge to API high."

The complaint states during a risk assessment Orand told a social worker "I know why you are here, you are here to kill me, just get it over with." Records stated that Orand was not intoxicated however, "does appear psychotic". He was assessed to be at high imminent risk for harm to himself.

Orand was prescribed the anti-depressants lithium and olanzapine, as well as anti-nausea drug Zofran and the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide. He was also accepted for admission to API.

Orand was later seen at Providence on Nov. 15 and Nov. 18 for ingesting seven pills of trazodone, an anti-depressant, and increasing bizarre behavior.

Griggs, the counselor named in the lawsuit, did a suicide/violence risk assessment on Orand Nov. 18, the day before he went missing. The complaint states the parents told Griggs that "he was up talking all night long and early this morning."

"Mother reports the patient took his lithium at 6:30 a.m. and then slowed down and became quiet," Griggs wrote. "He was OK until he went to the post office where he took off his clothes and sat in their car naked. Mother states 'oh and he whispered I could kill myself.' They also report he was released from API 4-5 days ago and 'they throw him out and he immediately gets bad again.'"

According to the lawsuit, medical records state Griggs' assessment of Orand took about 28 minutes.

On Nov. 19, 2017 the day Orand went missing, the complaint claims a medical student wrote in a PODI that "his main complaint today is visual hallucinations of demons."

"He has not been sleeping well or eating well," the impression read. "He feels that water was poisoned by someone, perhaps in the hospital….. Imminent risk of suicide at discharge: low. He is at low risk of suicide at this time. He denies any suicidal ideation at this time. He did not attempt to harm himself while in observation."

Orand was released and was told to follow up with his outpatient providers. Providence called his parents, Jolene and Buddy, on their home phone and left a message that Joseph was being released, however they were already en route to the hospital and missed the call.

By the time they arrived, their son had already left in a cab. They immediately drove back to the house to find him, but he was nowhere to be found.

Hospital staff told them that the cab driver said Orand jumped out of the cab, and was last seen running down the road.

Not a lifelong condition

KTVA spoke with Jolene Orand in November 2017, days after her son had gone missing and was still believed to be alive. She was asking for the public's help in locating him.

Jolene said her son had only been diagnosed with bipolar disorder recently and that it hadn't been a lifelong, chronic condition. She wished Providence would have tried harder to reach her before releasing him on his own.

Orand's brother-in-law, Daniel Buitrago, described him as a quiet and reserved person, a dog lover who liked to take long walks in the woods.

Buitrago says he saw Orand the day before he went missing, and everything seemed fine. 

"When I came to meet him that Saturday, he seemed totally normal, he seemed totally fine, and we had a talk for a good hour on all kinds of stuff that he wanted to do with the house," Buitrago said.

In November 2017, a neighbor had told Buitrago about Orand's increasingly bizarre behavior.

"I've watched his behavior for a month, he was going psycho on me," a neighbor, who knocked on the door of Orand's house, told Buitrago. "When he'd come threaten me with a baton, I wasn't too worried because if he would have swung at me, I would have taken it away from him but man, I really felt sorry for him."

According to the complaint, the Orands are seeking compensation for past and future pain and medical expenses, as well as income loss, suffering, emotional distress and anguish.

The Orands' lawyers, Ty Farnsworth and Jeffrey Vance, are asking for economic and punitive damages. They want the suit to be heard by a jury.

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