What is going on in Florida’s mental hospitals?

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Florida's Mental Hospitals

There seems to be a huge cover-up in Florida’s mental hospitals, and the state is ignoring them.  No matter what they do to sweep the torture and rape, among other things, under the rug, reporters are onto the abuse and they are exposing it for the public.  The latest investigation of neglect and abuse comes from the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  Who are they exposing?  The agency that oversees state-funded mental hospitals,  Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF).  Bad things sometimes happen to patients in these facilities. Terrible things.  We don’t hear about the bad things because DCF does not want us to know, they don’t want victim’s families to know. They use laws to protect the privacy of the patients to shield employees and administrators who are involved in the incidents that result in serious harm and even death to patients.   What is more surprising?  DCF is is allowed to decide if employees committed any wrongdoing. Only then is an edited investigative file made public.  As you would expect, rarely does DCF accept blame. The Times/Herald-Tribune team found that, during the last six years, 55 patients are known to have died in the care of Florida mental institutions. Only four times did DCF investigators conclude that the death was caused by abuse or neglect. Reporters who reviewed autopsy records and police reports uncovered four other cases, and there are probably more. In the name of patient privacy, the state has built a wall of secrecy around its mental hospitals, making it nearly impossible to track how they respond to abuse, neglect and carelessness by government workers.  In some cases, they used their power to classify fatalities as natural or accidental even though employee mistakes or neglect contributed to the deaths. In others, they cited a law that experts say was designed to crack down on abusers, but now protects them. 

Non-lethal injuries to patients are handled with the same self-serving secrecy. A review of 580 “critical event” reports from the state’s largest mental institutions documented instances of workers assaulting, sexually molesting and stealing from patients. 

When reporters asked for the names of hospital employees accused of abuse, state officials refused. They said Florida Statute 415.107 — a law to protect the identity of victims and people who report abuse — also covers the names of abusers.  Like everyone else, mental patients have a legal right to keep their medical records private. But hospitals also use those privacy laws to make it harder to get information about unscrupulous or inept employees. Even parents can be denied information when their adult child is injured or killed in the state’s care. 

As Carl Hiassen of the Miami Herald points out, brutal budget cuts in recent years have made life more medieval at Florida’s mental hospitals, which were never a national model for enlightened treatment. The troubled patients in these places have been forgotten by most lawmakers, despite the high long-term cost to taxpayers of warehousing the mentally ill. Any law that conceals their abusers must be changed. The U.S. Justice Department should begin investigating abuses in Florida’s mental hospitals.  Florida’s state-funded mental hospitals are supposed to be safe places to care for people who are a danger to themselves or others. Someone needs to take action to stop this horrifying abuse.

Read more about the investigations here: http://www.heraldtribune.com/assets/projects/florida-mental-health-hospitals/

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