Department of Justice Launches Investigation into Alleged Civil Rights Abuses at Norwalk Mental Hospital
The Department of Justice last week began an investigation into "possible civil rights abuses" at Norwalk-based Metropolitan State Hospital, although the exact focus of the investigation is unclear, the Los Angeles Times reports. The facility treats about 800 patients with mental illnesses, including 370 prison inmates and 101 children ages 11 to 18. According to an internal hospital document advising employees on how to answer justice department officials' questions, the investigation is expected to examine a "wide range of issues" such as the use of medications and restraints, as well as staff training. In the past, the hospital has received complaints about excessive use of drugs and restraints to control patients' behavior. James Preis of Mental Health Advocates said, "They've turned [Metropolitan] into much more of a prison-like facility. It seems more like a holding tank rather than a treatment facility." But hospital spokesperson Catherine Bernarding said that the facility "compares very favorably to any other program that treats patients that are this seriously ill" and that the staff is "seeing good results." The Times notes that allegations of excessive restraints and medications "rose sharply" in 1997, when the state closed Camarillo State Hospital and moved the children there to Metropolitan. Some mental health advocates attribute the hospital's problems to the "troubled overall state of California's mental health system" (Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, 7/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.