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Flushing Hospital facing suit over rooftop death

The state Department of Health has concluded its inquiry into the January death of an elderly patient on the roof of Flushing Hospital and the official findings should be made public in about a month, a spokesman for the agency said.

The family of Mary Varriale, the 75-year-old patient from Astoria who somehow made her way to the hospital's roof and froze to death on Jan. 17, has also met with a Manhattan-based law firm which is planning a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Flushing Hospital.

Robert Kenny, a state Department of Health spokesman, said last Thursday the investigation into Varriale's death was completed Jan. 20, the report was being finalized and the hospital would be notified of any existing deficiencies in its operations in the coming weeks. The report would be released to the public soon afterward, Kenny said.

Mary Varriale had been admitted to the hospital for a brain tumor Jan. 13 and was discovered to be missing from her room at 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 17.

Following two unsuccessful nighttime searches by both hospital staff and police with the 109th Precinct, Varriale's body was finally found on the roof of the hospital during a third search around 8 a.m. that morning . She had died of exposure.

She had reportedly been placed on medication and became disoriented when it wore off.

Mary Varriale's family has hired the Manhattan-based law firm of Smiley, Schwartz and Captain to represent them in a lawsuit against Flushing Hospital.

Guy Smiley, the attorney handling the case for the Varriales, said his firm was awaiting the state Health Department's report and had also requested Flushing Hospital's records on the death.

"We do intend to commence a lawsuit against the hospital as soon as we have this information," Smiley said.

The multimillion-dollar lawsuit will be based both on Mary Varriale's death and the pain and suffering she experienced as she froze, he said.

Smiley accused the hospital of negligence, saying a closer eye should have been kept on Mary Varriale and that some sort of alarm should have gone off to signal she had gone out on the roof.

Ole Pedersen, a spokesman for Flushing Hospital, said he would not comment on pending litigation.

Mary Varriale's son, Edward Varriale, said his family was coping with the loss, but his father was not handling the sudden death of his wife well at all.

"My father, he just sits home and looks at the pictures," Edward Varriale said. "He just kept asking the lawyer 'how could this happen?"

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