April 9th, 2018

Lawsuit challenges unlimited civil commitments in Connecticut

mental health facilities connecticutA Google search of Gloria Drummer’s name explains what led her to be involuntarily committed at Dutcher Hall in the Whiting Forensic Hospital in Middletown, Connecticut, after being found not competent to stand trial.

On Sept. 25, 2015, Drummer, then aged either 57 or 58 according to news accounts, attacked a 27-year-old woman at random with a large knife outside a West Hartford CVS. The woman was treated at a hospital for multiple stab wounds to her head that were deemed non-life threatening.

Two psychiatrists testified last fall that Drummer is no longer a danger to herself or others. Yet she remains held at the medium security inpatient psychiatric facility.

That violates the Connecticut Patients’ Bill of Rights, argues an independent non-profit group now suing the state. The Connecticut Legal Rights Project (CLRP) says the state has failed to measure and respond to the need for residential settings and supports in the community where psychiatric patients could live.

“When you’re talking about fundamental rights, everybody’s entitled to fundamental rights regardless of what they did on one of the worst days of their life,” said CLRP Executive Director Kathleen Flaherty.

Drummer is the lead plaintiff in the class action lawsuit that represents two classes of psychiatric inpatients: those denied periodic reviews of their mental health status and those who have been declared discharge ready by their treatment teams but remain institutionalized because of a lack of appropriate community placements, supports, and services.

Flaherty said Drummer meets both. After her treatment team declared her ready for discharge on Aug. 2, 2017, the hospital failed to request a hearing with the Middletown Probate Court.

Drummer had a review before the court on Oct. 13, during which an independent psychiatrist and the attending psychiatrist testified that she did not meet the standard for commitment because she was not a danger to herself or others and was not gravely disabled.

Her social worker also testified that there were no supportive housing or residential placement options available and that Drummer was on waiting lists with no known or estimated date of availability.

“One could wait forever for the perfect person to come along to be the named person on this complaint,” Flaherty said.

“We had very long, involved conversations with Ms. Drummer and asked her if she wanted to proceed under a pseudonym or proceed in her own name and advised her about the consequences of both of those things and she was the one who made the choice that she wanted to proceed under her own name.”

Most states authorize civil commitment orders with a limited duration, typically 30, 60 or 90 days. Connecticut is one of a handful of states that place no time limit on commitments. That means there is no burden put on hospitals to bring a civilly committed psychiatric patient’s case to court for review, Flaherty said.

Connecticut’s periodic review statute only requires a full judicial due process hearing once every two years. The vast majority of patients stabilize and no longer meet commitment standards long before the mandatory two-year review, the complaint states.

Flaherty couldn’t say how many plaintiffs there are in the case which names the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and the state’s four inpatient treatment facilities for persons with severe addiction and/or psychiatric problems.

Named defendants are the Connecticut Valley Hospital and its Whiting Forensic Division, Greater Bridgeport Community Mental Health Center, Connecticut Mental Health Center and Capitol Region Community Mental Health Center.

The complaint was filed Feb. 14 in the District of Middlesex Superior Court in Middletown.

DMHAS spokeswoman Diana Lejardi referred a request for comment on the complaint to the Office of Attorney General.

Jaclyn M. Severance, spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General, said the complaint was under review and that there will be an appropriate response in court. She declined to comment further on pending litigation.

A 2016 DMHAS Psychiatric Services Study report documented that overall discharges decreased nearly seven percent over a five-year period ending in fiscal 2016 with only Connecticut Valley Hospital showing an increase during that time.

“These data may point to fewer community discharge options (no turnover in residential beds or fewer housing options,) or patients preparing for discharge have more complicated presentations requiring special placements that are unavailable or experiencing low turnover rates,” according to the report.

Flaherty said that the case has been six years in the making. CLRP wrote a letter to the state attorney general in January 2012 outlining a list of problems with Connecticut’s civil commitment statute.

“We have tried to resolve this in lots of ways other than having to go to court over it and haven’t been able to get where we needed to go,” Flaherty said.

By Janine Weisman

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