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Justice Department Asks For Oversight of Two Dangerous Mental Hospitals

The LA Times reported this week on a U.S. Department of Justice request to extend federal oversight of two mental hospitals after suggesting that the homes have not complied with previously ordered consent decrees. Over five years ago the two facilities were ordered to enact sweeping changes, including improvements in their protocols intended to keep employees and residents safe. The original decree placed the hospital under federal oversight after a mental hospital abuse lawsuit was filed against the facility by a variety of stakeholders.

In this latest legal filing, the federal officials reported a string of problems with the homes leading to the request for continued oversight. The documents listed preventable suicides, medical errors, improper restraint use, uncontrolled violence, and other troubling information. For example, the federal attorneys wrote in the filings that “both those residing and those working [at the facilities] are seriously assaulted on a continuing basis.” It was explained that untold suffering, injury, and death would result from a lapse of the oversight and a failure on the part of the facilities to make previously-demanded changes.

A look at the evidence laid out by federal officials suggests that these facilities are still the sight of rampant mistreatment and dangerous circumstances. Unlike most case of nursing home neglect, problems at mental hospitals often place employees in danger as well as other residents. For example, at one of the facilities involved, a psychiatric technician was strangled to death by a patient. The technician was carrying an alarm that all staff member carry to prevent events just like this. However, the alarms did not work. As a result, the employee was unable to call for help while she was attacked by the disturbed resident.

Preventing suicides remains another key concern. One resident committed suicide while his psychiatrist was on vacation without a substitute being found. In another case, a resident killed himself after having already attempting suicide. Little was done after the first attempt to prevent a reoccurrence. Questions also remain about the improper restraints still used at the facilities. “Face-down” restraints were still in use even though they are prohibited. Residents have previously been seriously injured or killed when improper force was applied in this fashion.

The problems at psychiatric hospitals are similar to those faced at many nursing homes. Both involve the care of particularly vulnerable communities with repeated instances of neglect and mistreatment. The Chicago injury lawyers at our firm, for example, closely followed developed at local facilities for disabled and mentally challenged children, Alden North. Chicagoans of all stripes were shocked to learn of the mistreatment at the facility for young people, with over a dozen deaths reported over a period of several years that were attributed to neglect and mistreatment. It seems that in all of these institutional-like settings, from mental hospitals to nursing homes, there is often a tendency to let care slip without prodding to do otherwise. For example, nursing home abuse settlements often come with terms that require facilities to make certain changes in their procedures to prevent future harm.

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