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L.A. County to pay $395,000 over man's suicide

The 26-year-old college graduate hanged himself last year at a public mental hospital as the staff attended to another patient.

October 22, 2009|Rong-Gong Lin II

Los Angeles County officials agreed this week to the family of a 26-year-old college graduate who committed suicide in a public mental hospital as the staff attended to another patient.

UCLA graduate Jorge Alarcon, 26, was admitted to a Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center mental hospital in Rosemead last year after his parents worried that he had become psychotic. About a month later, he hanged himself with a T-shirt in his hospital bathroom on June 2, 2008. It was his third suicide attempt while at the hospital, and he had been placed on suicide watch two days before he killed himself, according to his family.

Alarcon's parents filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital staff failed to adequately monitor their son, creating the opportunity for him to commit suicide.

The county said it completed "appropriate personnel corrective actions" in the wake of Alarcon's death. One policy change that was enacted states that staffers overseeing a suicidal patient "may not leave the patient unless relieved by another staff member," according to a county document.

Alarcon's mother, Maria, a Pasadena resident, said she was happy the hospital had changed its policy.

"Money is not going to bring my son back. But if we can prevent one more life from being lost, that is what I am happy about," she said Wednesday.

Alarcon was the son of Mexican immigrants -- an accountant and a preschool teacher. His family said he was bright and happy growing up. He earned a bachelor's degree in engineering at Cal State L.A. and a master's degree in biomedical engineering at UCLA.

About six months before his death, Alarcon began to behave oddly, according to family members. Shortly before he was taken to the hospital, he began talking nonsense. He told his mother that he was a lion and tried to bite his father.

His mother expressed shock after his death last year, thinking the hospital would protect him.

"I never expected this," Maria Alarcon told The Times last year. "How could this happen in a hospital?"

ron.lin@latimes.com

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