- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE | A mental patient who has been held in seclusion for 15 years can remain there for now, but the mental hospital must work toward giving him more freedom, a Virginia state oversight committee ruled Friday.

The State Human Rights Committee decided to allow Western State Hospital to continue to keep Cesar Chumil in a three-room “limited containment suite” at least until December, but the hospital must come up with a plan to move Mr. Chumil out of the suite.

The hospital had argued that Mr. Chumil, a Hispanic man in his 50s who speaks very little English, was so violent that it was safer for staff and other patients for him to be held in the suite. In one year, he logged more than 300 assaults.

Mr. Chumil has been in solitary confinement for long periods since the 1980s, when he came to Western State Hospital and was diagnosed as paranoid and schizophrenic. Since 1993, Mr. Chumil has lived in the dormitory-style room with a separate bathroom and a small outdoor area where he remains separated from other patients. His meals are pushed through a slot in a locked door.

Despite his living arrangements, Mr. Chumil has been allowed numerous trips with his family to local parks, his favorite restaurants and Wal-Mart — all unaccompanied by hospital staff. His advocates say the trips prove he’s not as dangerous as officials contend.

“It’s a good sign that the State Human Rights Committee is taking this seriously and that a message has been sent to the hospital that they need to be accountable for their treatment to Mr. Chumil,” said his attorney, Nathan Veldhuis.

Virginia law outlines when patients can be secluded and restrained, and it requires those methods be used only in extreme circumstances and for short periods.

The hospital had received permission — a so-called variance — from the committee for what amounted to standing orders to keep Mr. Chumil in the suite. That variance expired last September.

The committee Friday approved another variance to allow the permanent seclusion to be part of Mr. Chumil’s treatment plan, but a physician must review Mr. Chumil’s case every four hours, instead of once per day, to determine whether seclusion continues to be necessary.

The hospital must report monthly on how often Mr. Chumil is offered time outside of his suite, how often he agrees to it and the number of hours each day that he is out of seclusion. It also must report the number and type of assaults from Mr. Chumil or other behavior problems.

The committee granted the variance until Dec. 5. In the past, the allowances have been given for multiple years.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Jack Barber, said he would work with the state Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services to address the committee’s concerns while ensuring that other patients and staffers are safe.

“This has gone on quite a while, so today we have some clarity that I think will be helpful to us in planning and working with the department and working with the family,” Dr. Barber said.

The committee agreed that Mr. Chumil should be transferred to a Northern Virginia mental hospital, where he can be closer to his family, and that he needs treatment by Spanish-speaking physicians.

It denied Mr. Chumil’s appeal for the hospital to supply him with dentures. The last of Mr. Chumil’s teeth were pulled three years ago, and the hospital has said it could not fit him with dentures because of his behavior and complex oral problems.

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