GAINESVILLE Anthony Barsotti looks on the verge of death. His skin is ashen, his face gaunt. His mouth gapes as he stares at the ceiling, sporadically sucking in breaths.
Three hours earlier, Anthony was a physically healthy 23-year-old living in the state’s care at a Gainesville mental hospital.
Then he took a swing at another mental patient and a hospital orderly launched him head-first into a concrete wall. Workers at North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center have a good chance to save his life this night in July 2010.
Instead, as hospital security cameras roll, they make one mistake after another.
When Anthony stumbles up with a cracked skull, they put a Band-Aid on his finger. When he clutches his head and howls in pain, they give him Tylenol.
When he stops talking and his body goes limp, no one checks him for a concussion.
It’s clear Anthony is in serious trouble. But for hours, no one calls 911.
Every year, judges send thousands of severely ill people to one of Florida’s mental hospitals because they are a danger to themselves or others. There, as the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported last Sunday, supervision is so lax that they assault each other over and over.
When injuries occur, overworked employees — some inept, others poorly trained, all of them underpaid and operating under pressure to keep costs down — often leave patients to fend for themselves.
No one intended for Anthony Barsotti to die. But his case points to a stark reality: Florida’s mental hospitals fail to protect the patients in their care.
Even when the staff on his ward gather around him near the end, they seem incapable of figuring out what to do.
“Look,” registered nurse Debra Engel says as he stares at the ceiling, catatonic, “I think he’s getting his color back.”
THE VOICESDusty pictures of a little boy line the plywood walls of Luann and Anthony Barsotti Jr.’s rustic bungalow deep in the woods outside Ocala.
A toddler in a red and white jumpsuit at Christmas smiling from an Olan Mills studio shot. A boy with a big grin and a red backpack on the first day of kindergarten. A laughing 9-year-old making coleslaw with grandpa.
It is easiest to think back on moments like these, when their boy, Anthony III, was growing up in Ohio. Before the voices came.
His mother picks up a framed picture of Anthony as a young man with long, curly hair, posing like Popeye.
“He was a good son,” she says, dusting the glass with her shirt. “He didn’t deserve this.”
Anthony loved art and drawing. Once, he dressed up as Pablo Picasso for a school talent show. He taught himself to play the guitar. He read The Lord of the Rings. He loved the rain.
As he got older, there were baseball games and skateboard ramps. There was a girl named Eleanor.
Anthony’s father, abused as a boy by a priest in Ohio, was a schizophrenic who controlled the disease with medication. The son named after him would not be so lucky.
In 2006, his parents moved to Silver Springs, Florida, to start anew. Anthony stayed behind with his grandparents to finish high school.
Schizophrenia lurks in the brain, often emerging in late adolescence like a fierce beast. Soon brain cells stop communicating so that signals pile up, leading into a deceptive world of fake voices, hallucinations, delusions.
By November 2007, Anthony’s grandparents could no longer handle his fitful, sometimes bizarre behavior. They put him on a plane to Florida. (Continue Reading)
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In the end, it wasn’t Anthony Barsotti’s demons that killed him