Department of Justice: Conditions at Kings County Hospital are ‘Highly Dangerous’

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February 5, 2009 —  In findings just made public after a year-long investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice calls conditions in the psychiatric facilities at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn “highly dangerous,” says they require “immediate attention,” and concludes that the hospital regularly fails “to properly assess, diagnose, supervise, monitor and treat its mental health patients.”

The DOJ investigation, initiated in December 2007, was in response to a lawsuit filed against the public hospital in May of that year by the New York Civil Liberties Union, Mental Hygiene Legal Service, and Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The lawsuit describes the hospital’s psychiatric emergency room and inpatient unit as “a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger,” and seeks an end to abusive treatment in the hospital’s psychiatric facilities where patients are regularly ignored and those that dare advocate for themselves are punished with forcible injections of psychotropic drugs.

The DOJ’s investigation has substantiated the lawsuit’s claims. Plaintiffs today released the following joint statement:

We welcomed the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York when they began their investigation of Kings County Hospital after we filed our lawsuit. The findings of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirm the appalling conditions and lack of adequate care and treatment for psychiatric patients at Kings County Hospital Center that are detailed in our lawsuit and that prompted us to sue the hospital. In light of the defendants’ initial denial of the allegations contained in the complaint filed by plaintiff’s counsel, we feel that the recent DOJ findings vindicate plaintiff’s concerns.

While the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation has made some changes and improvements to the psychiatric care provided at Kings County, the hospital remains a dangerous place where patient health and safety is at risk on a daily basis. Patient-on-patient violence and sexual assaults are still occurring with an alarming frequency. Additionally, a major overhaul of the patient care staff is urgently needed. The falsification of records has continued, and there is every indication that some staff with important patient care tasks are completely failing to exercise their responsibilities in a clinically appropriate manner. The new building for Kings County Hospital’s psychiatric services will not cure these failings which are the result of a culture of indifference and neglect that has been allowed to persist at KCHC for years.

Clearly, much more works needs to be done. The federal government’s involvement brings a vast array of expertise and resources, and we look forward to working with the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in our efforts to make Kings County Hospital a safe, effective, and therapeutic environment in which New Yorkers can receive the professional care and treatment they deserve. It is our hope and expectation that the express willingness of the defendants to work with DOJ and Plaintiff's counsel will, in fact, result in the change that KCHC so desperately needs.

The neglectful and abusive conditions at KCHC drew national attention in July after the NYCLU, Mental Hygiene Legal Service, and Kirkland & Ellis released security camera footage of Esmin Green, a 49-year-old Brooklyn woman, dying on the waiting room floor of the hospital’s psychiatric emergency room. The footage, acquired through the lawsuit, shows hospital staff ignoring Green as she writhed on the floor. Green had been in the waiting room for more than 24 hours.

Following release of the video, a federal court ordered the city to initiate emergency reforms at the hospital, including requirements that every patient be checked every 15 minutes, that there be no more than 25 patients at any time in the psychiatric emergency ward, and that detailed records on the ward be turned over every week to the advocates involved in the lawsuit.

Since Green’s death, incident reports filed with the New York State Office of Mental Health make clear that the hospital’s horrid conditions have not substantially improved. Among the complaints filed within the last several weeks are serious allegations of:

  • Physical violence by staff on patients;
  • Physical violence by patients on patients;
  • Physical violence by patients on staff; and
  • Continuing inappropriate sexual interactions between patients up to and including rape.