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Mental Hygiene Legal Services v. NYC HHC (Challenging squalid conditions, abuse at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital Center)

This lawsuit seeks to end the squalid conditions of confinement and abusive and negligent treatment of patients at Kings County Hospital Center’s psychiatric facilities. An extensive investigation conducted by Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS), in conjunction with the NYCLU and the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, revealed that the Brooklyn public hospital’s psychiatric facilities were overcrowded and often dangerously unsanitary. It found that patients — including children and the physically disabled — were routinely ignored and abused. Defendants in the lawsuit, the Board of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, were made aware of the horrific conditions at KCHC and failed to remedy them.

On May 2, 2007, the NYCLU, in conjunction with MHLS Second Judicial Department and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a complaint on behalf of Sidney Hirschfeld, the director of MHLS, in its representational capacity on behalf of all of its constituents – all patients who have been treated at KCHC. The complaint described the hospital’s psychiatric emergency room and inpatient unit as “a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger,” and sought an end to pervasive neglect and abusive treatment in the hospital’s psychiatric facilities. The plaintiffs argued that the defendants’ actions violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and several provisions of New York State Mental Hygiene Law, Public Health Law and the New York State Constitution.

The lawsuit triggered an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which issued a report in 2009 calling conditions at the hospital’s psychiatric ward “highly dangerous” and requiring “immediate attention.” The report concluded that the hospital regularly fails “to properly assess, diagnose, supervise, monitor and treat its mental health patients.” Conditions at KCHC drew national attention in July 2008 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, showed 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.

On Jan. 8, 2010, a federal judge signed a settlement agreement and court order establishing a framework for the systemic reform of KCHC’s psychiatric facilities. Under the terms of the settlement, the NYCLU, MHLS and Kirkland & Ellis have partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice to closely monitor the hospital for the next five years to ensure that it is fulfilling its obligations to provide patients appropriate care. 

E.D.N.Y, Index No. 07 cv 1819 (direct) 

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