|Image Courtesy of Hans Eiskonen|
“It’s really incomprehensible that this could happen in this day and age,” said Senator Heather Somers, a Republican. “It’s like something out of a Stephen King novel. I think it’s very important that we, as legislators, get to the bottom of this. If you are put in the state’s care, you should be cared for. You shouldn’t be tormented.”
Alleged incidents include placing a diaper over a patient’s head, throwing food at him, placing a mop on his head and pouring water over him, adding salt in his coffee, and kicking him. And, current and former staff members and patients’ relatives are coming forward with many other accounts.
Somers said some of their allegations include staff abusing patients, disobeying doctors’ orders and forging of doctors’ signatures. The nine arrested were charged with cruelty to persons and disorderly conduct. The other 31 suspended either took part in the abuse or knew about it and failed to report it. They face the possibility of being terminated from their positions and losing their licenses.
The abuse came to the forefront after the state Department of Public Health found one of the residents, a 62-year-old male, to have been kicked, jabbed, poked at and taunted by staff members over a significant period of time. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services asked that Whiting be investigated following a whistleblower complaint. Some of the abuse was later found to have been recorded by surveillance cameras.
The 62-year-old patient was committed to the hospital back in 1995 after being acquitted by reason of mental disease in the murder of his father, according to his court-appointed co-conservator, Karen Kangas. The man was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and autism spectrum disorder. “He’s been traumatized,” Kangas said. “That’s not how we should be treated when we have cancer, and it should not be how we’re treated when we have mental illnesses. I just couldn’t imagine that this all went on.”
The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said it would “do whatever is necessary to prevent future incidents” in a statement. District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, the Whiting’s workers’ labor union, released a statement of its own indicating patient abuse is unacceptable. The union is calling for new management, better training, and more staff as the hospital’s services continue to be investigated.
Brian Woolf, attorney for one of the staff members who was arrested, forensic head nurse Mark Cusson, said, “We have information from a variety of sources that this patient was an extremely difficult patient and some of the actions they took were justified.” His client is shocked by his arrest and they plan to defend their position.
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Mental Hospital Being Investigated After Abuse Allegations Surface