‘I still think of that with hor­ror’

Leg­is­la­tor: Hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials failed to ad­dress ‘toxic cul­ture’ of mal­treat­ment

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Cas­san­dra Day

MIDDLETOWN — Af­ter fed­eral au­thor­i­ties con­ducted what one law­maker termed a “scathing as­sess­ment” of Con­necti­cut Val­ley Hos­pi­tal poli­cies and con­di­tions a decade ago, the mother of a woman in state care for seven years af­ter that re­port tes­ti­fied Mon­day she wit­nessed staff openly laugh­ing about pa­tient hang­ings.

The Leg­is­la­ture’s Pub­lic Health Com­mit­tee hear­ing at the state Capi­tol in Hart­ford fol­lowed the ar­rests of 10 em­ploy­ees of the state De­part­ment of Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices who work for CVH’s Whit­ing Foren­sic di­vi­sion in Middletown, where those found in­com­pe­tent to stand trial are held.

The paid sus­pen­sion of 31 Whit­ing Foren­sic em­ploy­ees, on leave for al­leged pol­icy vi­o­la­tions or accusations of crim­i­nal acts, and the ar­rests of 10 staff mem­bers who have been charged with mul­ti­ple in­stances of cru­elty to per­sons and dis­or­derly con­duct trig­gered the hear­ings.

Those charges stem from ar­rest war­rants that de­tail a 24-day pe­riod — Feb. 27 to March 22 — dur­ing which au­thor­i­ties al­lege the brother of Al She­hadi, who came for­ward to tes­tify Mon­day, suf­fered a sus­tained pat­tern of at­tacks and provo­ca­tions.

All the al­le­ga­tions in­volve that sin­gle pa­tient who is still con­fined to Whit­ing.

Martha Healy told leg­is­la­tors it was the cul­ture of the unit her daugh­ter, Karen, was in that was most dis­turb­ing. “It was a joke for sev­eral weeks,” Healy said. “Staff would yell out to one an­other, ‘What are you do­ing to­day?’

“‘Just hang­ing around, just hang­ing around,’” she re­called hear­ing em­ploy­ees say. “As a vis­ual, I still think of that with hor­ror.”

Her daugh­ter, who was hos­pi­tal­ized at CVH from 2007 to 2014, said she wit­nessed staff putting their hands on clients, caus­ing bruises, as well as mak­ing fun of them.

She said em­ploy­ees con­veyed to her that she’d never leave their care. “There were some staff who did be­lieve in me, and it was their ef­forts and sup­port, as well as my fam­ily and doc­tors,” that ush­ered her to­ward re­cov­ery af­ter suf­fer­ing re­ac­tions from med­i­ca­tions and un­der­go­ing hip surgery at CVH, Karen Healy said.

State Sen. Ge­orge Lo­gan, R-An­so­nia, ref­er­enced what he called a “scathing as­sess­ment” con­ducted a decade ago by the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice prompted by pa­tient sui­cides that de­ter­mined “plans and pro­ce­dures were sup­posed to be in place but were not work­ing.”

“We’ve rec­ti­fied and ap­pro­pri­ately ad­dressed all of the ar­eas that were iden­ti­fied in that re­port and risk man­age­ment find­ings,” Miriam Del­phin-Rittmon, com­mis­sioner of the De­part­ment of Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices, told Lo­gan.

“Peo­ple should not be judged be­cause they have long-term psy­chi­atric and phys­i­cal ill­nesses,” Karen Healy said. “Ev­ery­one de­serves the chance to be treated well and have a nor­mal life as pos­si­ble.”

“The re­port con­firmed CVH has an ap­pro­pri­ate sys­tem for re­spond­ing to and track­ing al­le­ga­tions of staff abuse or ne­glect of pa­tients but CVH lacks an ad­e­quate sys­tem for col­lect­ing, or­ga­niz­ing and track­ing pa­tient in­juries and in­ci­dents,” Lo­gan said, read­ing from the DOJ re­port.

“This is sim­i­lar to hav­ing a video cam­era, but not hav­ing any­one look at the video cam­era on a reg­u­lar basis,” Lo­gan told Del­phinRittmon.

Mon­day’s pub­lic hear­ing tes­ti­mony con­tin­ued un­til at least 7 p.m., said state Rep. Christie Carpino, RCromwell.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed with DMHAS’ tes­ti­mony. I asked for mul­ti­ple items al­most a month ago in writ­ing from the com­mis­sioner in or­der to have an in­tel­li­gent con­ver­sa­tion, look­ing at poli­cies, pro­ce­dures to make sure this never hap­pens again,” she said.

It’s a delay that is mak­ing her sus­pi­cious, Christie said.

Del­phin-Rittmon told Carpino her let­ter was re­ceived af­ter the one sent by state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Gro­ton.

“The con­tent re­quested — and I’m not mak­ing ex­cuses here, I’m just try­ing to be frank — it’s prob­a­bly over 5,000 to 8,000 pages of con­tent,” Del­phin-Rittmon said. “We have a duty, we have to go through them to make sure ev­ery­thing is redacted. I think that may even be a low es­ti­mate.”

Carpino told her she’s heard from a num­ber of CVH re­tirees about a “toxic en­vi­ron­ment on cam­pus” that caused them to fear for their safety and they were forced to omit facts from pa­tient records or change records.

“And I hope that is not true,” Carpino said to Del­phin-Rittmon, who told her she’s en­cour­ag­ing staff to come for­ward.

“There’s mul­ti­ple av­enues to do that. They can talk to su­per­vi­sor or client rights of­fi­cer or HR. They can be as­sured that we’re tak­ing this se­ri­ously,” Del­phin-Rittmon said, adding that the ad­min­is­tra­tion “has in­creased the real-time mon­i­tor­ing of video sur­veil­lance and re­trained and re-ed­u­cated staff on re­port­ing mech­a­nisms.”

Call­ing it a “toxic cul­ture” on the CVH cam­pus, Christie said, “These peo­ple de­serve to be treated with re­spect. I’m hor­ri­fied with the state that this is the way they treat peo­ple.”

Many DMHAS work­ers do the right thing, Christie said. “I think they care about the pa­tients but they’ve seen the abuse and mis­man­age­ment and they’re afraid.”

Dr. Michael Norko, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Whit­ing Foren­sic di­vi­sion, said the hos­pi­tal col­lects data on pa­tient in­ci­dents, which is then pre­sented to man­age­ment in quar­terly re­ports.

“Any­thing on pa­tient in­juries, pa­tient as­saults, pa­tient-on-pa­tient as­saults, pa­tient-on-staff as­saults,” he said is among the in­for­ma­tion.

“There are qual­ity im­prove­ment of­fi­cers re­spon­si­ble for do­ing that and the re­sults of those re­ports are dis­cussed by the hos­pi­tal’s gov­ern­ing body and also with the ad­vi­sory boards for both the Whit­ing Foren­sic di­vi­sion and for CVH in gen­eral,” Norko said.

“The pa­tients who were abused ob­vi­ously need to be at­tended to, but also, we have to re­mem­ber the good peo­ple that work there have to deal with the grief that this tragedy has brought about,” said Jim P. Mur­phy, who tes­ti­fied dur­ing the hear­ings.

“You can’t take a big brush and say all Whit­ing is bad be­cause it’s not. You had a cav­ity down there in the tooth,” said the ad­vanced prac­tice nurse, who spe­cial­izes in psy­chi­a­try.

“The cav­ity has to be drilled. It has to be cleaned and we have to re­store some rea­son­able or­der down there,” Mur­phy said.

Mur­phy said he be­lieves there must be a dis­tinc­tion as to what unit is re­spon­si­ble for the al­leged mal­treat­ment.

“The pro­pos­als that were made (by DMHAS staff) were in­suf­fi­cient, and a truly in­de­pen­dent en­tity, prefer­ably a nurse, (should con­duct an au­dit) con­sid­er­ing that the things that oc­curred were un­der the purview of the nurs­ing de­part­ment. That fact was greatly over­looked and un­der­stated,” he said.

DMHAS has set up an abuse hot­line at 877-277-9471.

Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor Cas­san­dra Day can be reached at cas­san­dra.day@ hearst­medi­act.com.

Cour­tesy House Repub­li­cans

From left, state Sens. Heather Somers and Ge­orge Lo­gan and state Reps. Christie Carpino and Prasad Srini­vasan speak dur­ing a news con­fer­ence call­ing for a forum to ad­dress al­le­ga­tions of pa­tient abuse by Con­necti­cut Val­ley Hos­pi­tal em­ploy­ees in...

Ben Parady, of Unionville, makes his way to the ta­ble to tes­tify Mon­day af­ter­noon dur­ing hear­ings with the pub­lic and the state De­part­ment of Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices ad­min­is­tra­tion.

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