Psychiatric hospital staff forces patient to wear diaper on his head, among other humiliating abuses: Prosecutor

A psychiatric hospital in Middletown, Connecticut, faces mounting allegations of mistreatment following an investigation by state Department of Public Health.

In response to a complaint about the treatment of a 62-year-old inmate at the Whiting Forensic Division facility, Connecticut’s only maximum security psychiatric hospital, nine former staff members have been arrested and a total of 31 employees were suspended for their alleged role in the abuse. Other patients have also been named as possible victims of mistreatment and humiliation by the staff.

The Middletown Press reported earlier this month that the latest round of criminal charges netted the arrest of six former staff members now facing felony charges.

Republican State Sen. Heather Somers has pushed for a thorough investigation after she says she received multiple complaints from constituents.

Calling such patient abuse “incomprehensible” and comparing it to “something out of a Stephen King novel,” she said it is her job to make sure anyone involved is exposed and brought to justice.

“If you are put in the state’s care, you should be cared for,” Somers said. “You shouldn’t be tormented.”

In addition to physical and emotional abuse, she said she has received calls from concerned family members and former hospital employees alleging staff members have forged documents and improperly ignored the instruction of doctors.

The alleged mistreatment of the 62-year-old patient whose case sparked the investigation includes hospital staff throwing food and water on him and putting filthy items including a used mop and a diaper on his head. Some of the abusive acts were reportedly captured by the facility’s surveillance system.

Karen Kangas, who was assigned by a court to serve as one of his conservators, said the patient suffers from multiple mental health issues and has been “traumatized” by the abuse.

“That’s not how we should be treated when we have cancer,” she said, “and it should not be how we’re treated when we have mental illnesses. I just couldn’t imagine that this all went on.”

According to an ABC News report, the unnamed patient’s abuse occurred this year and was investigated following a request by federal regulators a the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The facility, which has nearly 250 beds in total, houses both individuals found not guilty of violent crimes by reason of insanity and those who were placed in the facility’s custody as the result of a civil trial.

While the 31 suspended employees have been roundly rebuked by state and federal agencies, including the union representing the hospital’s staff, the attorney for one man facing criminal charges believes his client and others will prevail in court.

“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,” said Brian Woolf, who is representing forensic head nurse Mark Cusson.

According to state police spokesperson Eric Haglund, the patient was moved to another facility after the allegations surfaced.

This case was not the first black mark against Whiting Forensic Division, and the local Service Employees International Union is hoping the investigation will result in new management for the facility, as well as a better-trained staff.

Among other complaints, staff members have faced allegations that they use restraints on patients too often and too forcefully. The 2002 death of one patient was linked to the improper use of restraints. That case resulted in a wrongful death case filed by the patient’s family and a $2.3 million settlement by the state.

[Feature Photo: Connecticut State Police]