In first Md. suit of its kind, woman who killed her sons blames HMO, doctors

May 24, 1992|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

She acknowledged later to the psychologist that it didn't seem to make sense, buying more diapers for her infant son so close to the end. But, Annamaria Angel Rescott explained, she had wanted her two boys to be as comfortable as possible on the last day of their lives.

She loved them.

She watched cartoons with them and played with them and finally kissed them goodbye in that Holiday Inn motel room four autumns ago. Then, one after the other, she suffocated them with motel pillows.

Mrs. Rescott was found to be insane, the victim of postpartum depression, paranoia and delusions. In the legal parlance of the day, she was "not criminally responsible" for this most horrifying of all transgressions.

With that finding, the anguishing tale of Mrs. Rescott might have slipped from public memory. But instead, from the moment she stepped into Clifton T. Perkins, the state's hospital for the criminally insane, Mrs. Rescott began asking a troubling question, one that may soon reverberate far beyond the boundaries of her life:

If she was not responsible for the deaths of 7-year-old Brandon and his infant brother, Corey, who was?

Her answer, contained in a lawsuit, is the medical providers who had treated her.

Their "negligence, omissions [and] actions," Mrs. Rescott claims, were the "direct" cause of the awful events in that Cumberland motel. Their devotion to the bottom line rather than to her recovery from depression cost her children their lives, she alleges.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Columbia Freestate and three internists who treated Mrs. Rescott for the health maintenance organization (HMO); University Hospital and three psychiatrists who cared for her there; and Terry Bauknight, the psychologist who began seeing Mrs. Rescott soon after Corey's birth.

Neither Dr. Bauknight nor his lawyers returned repeated telephone calls from The Sun. Through spokesmen, the other defendants refused to comment except to deny the lawsuit's allegations that they were liable for the deaths of the boys. All are seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.

Those who treat the mentally ill sometimes have been held liable for the violent actions of their patients. But this case appears to be the first in Maryland in which a criminally insane patient has attributed killings to medical malpractice.

What may be more significant is the lawsuit's indictment of a health care system that Mrs. Rescott charges places medical treatment secondary to profit.

It is an allegation frequently leveled at HMOs, and particularly in regard to mental health services. While unaware of the Rescott lawsuit, many believe that in an effort to contain costs, good medicine is compromised.

"Too often, there's just an effort to save money by discharging patients from hospitals when they still need ongoing care and there's no alternative outside the hospital," said Steven Sharfstein, president and medical director of Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital and chairman of an American Psychiatric Association committee that is exploring how decisions are made in health insurance.

Mrs. Rescott's lawsuit argues that she was prematurely discharged from University Hospital in March 1988 and then inappropriately placed primarily under the care of a psychologist who lacked the training to deal with her complicated array of physical and psychiatric conditions.

The result was that Mrs. Rescott steadily deteriorated until finally she was in a motel room, convinced the only way to save her children from a world she regarded as perilous was to smother them, the suit contends.

"The worst part about it, the part that would make me cry about it at night, was seeing that maybe this should never have happened," said Richard Mazza, Mrs. Rescott's older brother.

Tragedy with some warning

The day after his brother Corey's birth, 6-year-old Brandon got a call from the hospital. When he put the phone to his ear, all he heard was the sound of his mother weeping.

A year later, people would wonder whether that call was the tragedy's most advanced warning. It was followed quickly by others. Within days of delivery, it was apparent that Anna Rescott was not herself.

A strong, warm and outgoing woman of 30 who was healthy and full of energy during her second pregnancy, Mrs. Rescott was withdrawn and lethargic after delivery. She didn't want to be around others and had difficulty talking to people. Her Catonsville neighbors noticed that she kept her blinds pulled down during the day.

Her husband, Mark, a mechanic, later told doctors of more dismaying behavior. She stopped bathing and keeping house. She barely prepared for Christmas, and her treatment toward the children was veering toward the bizarre. She refused to put Corey down from morning to night, and she kept Brandon out of school for weeks at a time, fearful that someone would hurt him if he ventured from her.

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