Elizabeth Brown was not a typical teenager. An exceptional student, she left home at fifteen to start college early. She made the dean’s list and even earned an opportunity to study abroad at Oxford University.
She was also a talented musician. She played piano and guitar, and was a violinist in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra – one of the most prestigious youth orchestras in the world.
But when Elizabeth returned home from her second year of college, she was beginning to experience some serious mental health issues. She suffered panic attacks and urges to cut herself. She asked to see a therapist.
Elizabeth’s father, David, says it “took more than three weeks to get the appointment with a therapist… we were pushing, we were emailing, constantly contacting them.” The first psychologist who met with Elizabeth at Kaiser Permanente noted her struggles with depression and self-destructive behaviors in her record. However, she was only offered half-hour meetings every 8 to 10 weeks. The therapist suggested she listen to a self-forgiveness audio program.
As Elizabeth’s condition worsened, she began having suicidal thoughts. She flew home from school. Her parents knew she urgently needed more intensive care, but felt completely alone in finding it.
Kaiser psychiatrists were largely unavailable. They decided to pay out-of-pocket for a therapist and psychiatrist outside of Kaiser.
Not long after, Elizabeth called 911 when she feared for her life. She was finally admitted to the intensive outpatient program at Kaiser but her mother, Seong, could see that even this program, which consisted of a few hours a day of group therapy, would not be enough. She requested a higher level of care, writing to Elizabeth’s psychologist to express how urgent the situation was and to describe the seriousness of her acute symptoms.
The psychologist replied that Elizabeth could either continue with the outpatient program or try to see a new therapist outside of Kaiser. He had nothing more to offer.
Seong and David constantly worried about their daughter when they weren’t with her. They later learned from her journal that she had taken steps to plan her passing while they were out.
Just a few weeks after Seong’s plea to the Kaiser psychiatrist, Elizabeth died by suicide.
Her parents remember her for more than just her talent and drive to succeed. Seong says she thinks of Elizabeth’s love of music. David recalls her compassion for others.
And they know she was hopeful for her recovery. She trusted the medical professionals and took all the medication she was told to take, despite unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. Seong says that Elizabeth really believed Kaiser could help her.
David and Seong sought to hold Kaiser accountable for the death of their daughter. But they were unable to find an attorney because of a law set by politicians in 1975 that caps compensation in cases of medical negligence. The cap set the value of a young person’s life at $250,000 in 1975, and has not been updated in the last 45 years. Elizabeth was denied the care she needed and, because of California’s outdated law, there will be no justice for her or her family.