There are several ongoing investigations into allegations of patient abuse at the Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital, a public hospital in Middletown, Conn., for the treatment of people dealing with mental illness.
Connecticut’s Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, and the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities are all investigating these allegations. All three departments will confirm the investigation but will not confirm or provide any other details – if and how many employees have been suspended, and how many patients are at the hospital, citing the ongoing investigation.
DMHAS did provide the following statement in early April to a Connecticut TV news station:
“The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is currently investigating allegations of patient abuse by staff at Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital. The staff who are the subjects of the investigation have been removed from their duties pending the results of the investigation. The Department takes allegations of abuse very seriously and is committed to conducting a complete and thorough investigation. If the allegations are substantiated, the employees will go through the appropriate disciplinary process and may be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal from State Service.”
Whiting Forensic Division has 106 maximum security beds and 141 enhanced security beds, according to its Web site. Mental Health Services are provided to individuals who are admitted under Psychiatric Security Review Board commitment, criminal court order for restoration of competency to stand trial, voluntary or involuntary civil commitment or a transfer from the Department of Correction.
At least one other media reports have said that 24 employees have been suspended – but no state agency would confirm that number.
The Connecticut Legal Rights Project is also investigating the allegations and representing a Whiting Forensic Division patient. Kathleen Flaherty, J.D., executive director, said by email that typically, a hospital would handle its own internal inquiry for allegations against employees. It’s more unusual to have state agencies looking into this, she said.
“This investigation raises a serious question: is the model of a 20-patient psychiatric unit in a state hospital with union staff, union unit directors, social workers, rehabilitation staff, psychologists and psychiatrists, all in a cramped, old, sterile, traditional hospital unit a place that is conducive to recovery?” she said. “Or, is it more likely to be conducive to burned-out staff, union-management fighting, manipulations of staff and patients to create overtime and assert control? Do we need to re-examine this entire model and approach to patient care?”
She said that practicing medicine in a state psychiatric inpatient hospital raises many conflicts of interest and tensions as psychologists and psychiatrists are the highest-level professionals staff on the unit.
“It will be important for these various investigations to fully examine the facts and for the appropriate entities to take appropriate action to address the allegations of abuse and neglect, or failure to adequately report such abuse and neglect, if those allegations are substantiated,” she said. “DMHAS must also institute appropriate protocols to make sure that patient abuse and neglect does not occur again.”
By Rivkela Brodsky